COLUMBIA, MD.—Stacy Spann has come back home to make a difference.

He returned to Howard County, Md., in 2006 to serve as its housing director, receiving the appointment on the same December day that his second child, Sydney, was born.

“I went to high school here, lived in the community,” Spann says. “We're back, and it's exciting to work in the [area].”

The 37-year-old has brought new energy to an agency that comprises the county Department of Housing and Community Development (Howard County Housing, for short) and the Housing Commission, the area's public housing authority.

“In his nearly four years with Howard County government, Stacy has increased our affordable rental housing portfolio and provided countless individuals and families with opportunities for affordable homeownership through a revitalized homeownership program,” says county executive Ken Ulman.

Since Spann's arrival, Howard County Housing has nearly doubled its rental housing portfolio to 941 units, with another 500 affordable and market-rate units in the pipeline.

On the homeownership front, he has helped launch or restructure several programs, including the Settlement Downpayment Loan Program, which offers loans of up to $40,000 for downpayment and closing costs with an interest rate 2 percent lower than the primary mortgage rate. The county has also helped its first two families become homeowners through the Housing Choice Voucher for Homeownership Program.

Spann adds that Howard County is also developing the nation's first affordable, green, and universally designed single-family detached for-sale community.

A former resident's view

The county's biggest project is the $43 million redevelopment of the troubled 100-unit Guilford Gardens apartments into a new, 269-unit development that will provide a mix of project-based Sec. 8, low-income housing tax credit, and market-rate apartments.

Spann knows Guilford Gardens from the inside. He lived in the development as a bright, determined teenager. “I was fortunate to come to this community and did extremely well,” he says. “I don't have any complaints or regrets. I endured challenges like anyone else, but, overall, it was an absolutely positive experience. I hope it's made me a better and more compassionate housing director.”

This year, he watched his family's old public housing unit get knocked down and construction begin on the new development, named Monarch Mills, which will feature energy-efficient apartments and a learning center.

Having a resident's perspective helps when it comes to having the difficult conversations that are part of the job, Spann says. It also gives him instant credibility with residents, including those he knows from his early days as a resident.

After high school, Spann went on to Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he received a bachelor's degree in business administration. He then graduated from Columbia University with a master's in public administration.

Spann began his career as an investment banker on Wall Street and soon discovered that what he really enjoyed was applying his finance skills to community challenges.

He then worked for the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corp. and the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City near Boston. Spann was assistant commissioner for development finance at Baltimore's Department of Housing and Community Development when he was hired for the Howard County post.

He has also been active outside the office, teaching real estate development to graduate students at the University of Maryland.

Spann and his wife, Shannon, have two children, Evan, 6, and Sydney, 3.