Meet Adrianne Todman, executive director of the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) since 2009.

She leads an agency that provides housing for 50,000 people. DCHA has approximately 8,300 public housing units and another 13,000 units in its rental assistance programs.

Adrianne Todman
Adrianne Todman

For her years of service and creating new housing opportunities, Todman was named the 2016 recipient of the prestigious M. Justin Herman Memorial Award, the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials’ highest honor.

What was your first job?

I’m from the U.S. Virgin Islands. My first job as a teenager was working with the Department of Tourism there. I spent the summer at the airport welcoming visitors.

What was your first job in affordable housing?

When I moved to D.C., I worked on the Hill. My boss (then-Rep. Ron de Lugo) was very involved in housing legislation, and that was my first introduction to national housing issues, but I became immersed when I went to work at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the early days of HOPE VI and helped to frame the first HOPE VI competition.

What did that experience teach you?

The art of compromise. When you want to get a vision implemented, you need to have all the different people at the table to get something done. This was way back when folks were trying to figure out what HOPE VI could be. Because it was so unfamiliar there were different constituencies, and we were all learning from each other about what the possibilities could be.

What issue have you been spending the most time on lately?

We have eight active redevelopments right now. These are substantial redevelopments throughout the city. I spend a lot of time with my team to make sure that they are staying on track and deals are closing. That’s probably what I spend most of my time on now. Anybody who knows D.C. knows that we’re in a very aggressive real estate market right now.

Have you noticed any changes in the population you’re serving?

The people we serve are still mostly those who earn 30% of the area median income and below; people still very much need affordable housing and want to stay in the city. I’m proud that we’re able to sustain their ability to still live here in D.C. Overall, if I see a difference it’s that I’m not seeing the middle band as much in the District of Columbia. That band doesn’t seem to be as apparent as it used to be.

What do you consider the middle band?

That would be folks who are making about $60,000 or $70,000 a year. They’re making too much to qualify for most affordable housing, and they are not on our waiting lists. We’re seeing people in the middle band moving outside of the city along with the low-income families we aren’t getting to.

What issue is keeping you up at night?

I’m very anxious about the housing tax credit market right now. We have deals that are at closing or looking to close over the next year or so. I’m anxious to make sure that we get to closing quickly or figuring out ways to get some gap financing if needed.

If you could take a crash course on any subject, what would it be and why? What would you like to learn?

This is close to Oscar awards time. If I were going to learn something new, it would be cinematography. It would be new and unique, and it would exercise another part of my brain.

What do you like most about your job?

The executive director carries out the mission of the board and your own vision, but you can get stuck with trying to clear the path for the real work to happen. Whenever I’m getting too caught up with the politics of the job or I get in a tough place, I will go to one of our public housing sites and just hang out and talk with people. The residents keep it real with you. They don’t care who you are. People want strong communities. People want their kids to grow up in safe neighborhoods and with good schools. They want you to know that no matter what your title is they want you to improve where they are and where they want to go. That always reinvigorates my soul.