Diana McIver has been one of the pillars of the affordable housing industry.
As president of DMA Cos., McIver has developed affordable, special-needs, and mixed-income housing for more than 2,500 families with 500 more doors opening this fall. In addition, she’s had a hand in creating thousands of more homes as a consultant and advocate.
“I love what I do. Every day is different, full of new challenges,” she says. “I encourage people who aren’t happy in their jobs to go out and find as a career something they like to do. There’s going to be something out there that you really enjoy, and you just need to go for it.”
McIver, who has lived those words and took chances early in her career, has been an important member of the affordable housing business for four decades, earning the respect of peers and competitors.
“She is one of the wisest people I know in this industry,” says Justin MacDonald, president and CEO of MacDonald Cos. “I think the main thing that makes Diana special is her immense care for our industry and its stakeholders, especially the residents and communities that we are here to serve. Her ideas and actions are always so thoughtful and well-considered.”
His late father, Granger MacDonald, used to quip that anytime he couldn’t make it to a Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs board meeting on a proposed rule that he should just give McIver his power of attorney because she would do and say the right thing, recalls MacDonald.
“Simply put, affordable housing in Texas would look completely different if not for Diana’s work,” he says, crediting her with fighting to improve the allocation process for the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program, the most important financing tool used to build affordable housing in the nation.
While older firms have come and gone and as new developers enter the Texas market, McIver has been a strong, steady presence.
She began her career on the staff of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, where she spearheaded legislative changes to housing programs for seniors. She then joined the National Center for Housing Management, traveling the country teaching people how to develop and manage affordable housing utilizing the federal Section 202, Section 515, and Section 8 programs.
After leading one of these seminars, McIver and co-trainer Pat Conroy got the idea to do their own developments. They quit their jobs, moved from Washington, D.C., to Texas, found sites, and submitted three applications for the Section 8 new construction program, but in a case of bad luck the program was canceled the same year, stalling their dreams of becoming developers.
Fortunately, McIver and Conroy were in demand as consultants, working with several national nonprofits on Section 202s, the only federal housing program still alive at the time. McIver started Diana McIver & Associates in 1986, continuing to work with nonprofits, while Conroy started a computer software firm tailored to the multifamily industry.
Still harboring the “development fever,” McIver began developing for her own portfolio in 1998 to fill a need in rural Texas communities and has since branched out with key developments in the state’s major cities, including award-winning developments in her backyard in Austin.
This work resonates with her on several levels. She likes the challenge of developing properties and planning spaces but also the satisfaction of seeing people thrive in the housing that’s been built. “You’re doing something that is very rewarding,” says McIver. “I’m glad my entrepreneurial spirit took over when I was young and foolish and had absolutely no idea of the kind of financial risk I was taking. There are so few women-owned real estate development firms, and I believe it is because stereotypically women are not risk takers. We need to change that.”
DMA Cos. includes both a development arm (DMA Development Co.) and a property management arm (DMA Properties); a business that started as a one-woman shop has grown to a team of 106. McIver still remains one of the few women in the industry to own her own development business.
“I’m very proud of the company we’ve built,” McIver says. “It’s more of a boutique development firm. We don’t do big cookie-cutter deals. Everything we do is tailored to the site and the community.”
She also swells with pride about the people she’s helped nurture at the firm. Her executive and senior vice presidents have been with her 23, 20, and 16 years, respectively. “They get full credit for our successes,” she says. “It is the people here that make DMA great. I surround myself with the best.”
She’s touched many others beyond her own company.
Bobby Bowling IV, president of Tropicana Building, has known McIver since 2001 when he received his first housing tax credit award in Texas. In those days, the LIHTC business was much smaller than it is now, with maybe 10 or so experienced developers regularly working in the state. Bowling was about 31 years old and just starting out in the field.
Because the business was more personal back then, the developers would get together in a room and hash out issues. “I remember Diana hosted one of these events, and I felt so honored that I got invited,” Bowling says.
Not everyone treated the young developer with the same amount of respect that McIver showed, he says.
Bowling recalls when a regional allocation formula was established for the LIHTC program. It was created by a statute drafted by his state senator from El Paso. Perhaps McIver drew the short straw among the group of veteran developers at the time because she was the one who called Bowling, and they ended up working together to fine-tune the formula that still largely stands today.
MacDonald also cites McIver’s work through leadership roles at the Texas Affiliation of Affordable Housing Providers (TAAHP) and on her own to fight for an improved LIHTC qualified allocation plan and to ensure more quality affordable housing is built.
“Our state, and especially the affordable housing industry, owe her a huge debt of gratitude,” he says.Her impact also goes beyond the Texas border.
“Diana is a true industry veteran, helping house seniors and others throughout her long career both as a consultant and developer, and providing guidance to others including Congress through her active participation on the Millennial Seniors Commission, TAAHP, and other organizations,” adds Patrick Sheridan, who recently served as executive vice president for housing at Volunteers of America. “She has certainly helped me learn the intricacies of the HUD 202 program and how to build better senior housing.”
Conroy and McIver, whose “nonhousing” partnership has survived in excess of 40 years, have a “blended” family with “his and her” children, and now grandchildren, from earlier marriages. They both have a penchant for good food and good wine, with visits to California wine country.
The product of a “dance family,” McIver still sets aside time for dance classes, with both ballet and tap on her weekly schedule. “Ballet is good for the soul, and tap is good for the heart,” she laughs.