Audra Hamernik is president and CEO of Nevada HAND, the state’s leading affordable housing provider with approximately 4,700 affordable units serving more than 8,000 families and seniors.
She joined the nonprofit organization in 2019 after serving as executive director of the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA), where she oversaw the allocation of low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) and other key financing to expand housing opportunities across the state.
The industry veteran shares her path in the industry and what she’s working on next.
What was your first job, and what did that job teach you?
In 1994, I was thankful to be hired by DuPage County, Illinois, as an intern in the planning department. These were the days where we were required to wear skirts, hose, and closed toe shoes. My boss, Deborah Fagan, was a very experienced urban planner and very patient with me. I had just graduated with my master's and had grandiose ideas on what planners did at work—when she really needed me to measure bike paths, pour over plat book maps, and write. Almost 30 years later, our daughter (a freshman in college) received a care package from Deborah Fagan. So, what I have learned about work? It is all about how we treat each other. I love being a part of our nation's affordable housing industry. We are a group of housing professionals that care about good planning, finance, and development. We help a lot of low-income households and communities. We also care about each other. I frequently call many of you with questions and interpretation. Never once has someone not been kind enough to help me think through an issue.
What was your first housing-related job, and what did that job teach you?
My first housing-related job was in in Wheaton, Illinois, where I served as a senior planner in the Development Department for DuPage County. This job taught me the importance of fully understanding the wide range of federal, state, and local regulations, including building codes, environmental laws, land-use regulations, and impact fees. My love of regulations gave me the technical and procedural knowledge to approach problems with a degree of creativity.
What was a pivotal moment in your career?
Earlier this year, I testified before the U.S. Congress’ Committee on Ways and Means. Having the opportunity to advocate for the advancement of affordable housing solutions was an honor.
How was the change going from running a state housing finance agency to leading a nonprofit housing developer?
Quite frankly, the change has been a lot of fun. When I was the executive director of IHDA, we were responsible for administering affordable housing and community development programs. Leading a nonprofit now, I have the opportunity to read and understand the qualified allocation plan from a developer’s perspective. At Nevada HAND, we have our own construction company and property management firm. Through our work, we are proud to provide high-quality affordable housing and on-site resident services to over 8,000 low-income families and seniors.
Share an interesting fact or statistic about housing in Las Vegas or Nevada.
Here are three interesting facts and statistics about Las Vegas and Nevada. (1) The federal government controls more than 80% of the land in Nevada, more than in any other state; (2) Nevada was the fifth fastest-growing state over the past decade, but the state has the greatest affordable housing needed in the country; and (3) the famous Las Vegas Strip is not located within the city limits of Las Vegas. The Strip actually falls under the jurisdiction of Clark County.
Tell us about a development you are working on.
Nevada HAND has over 700 units of high-quality affordable housing under construction. One of these developments, Decatur Commons, is a 480-unit development located in Las Vegas—240 units will be garden-style apartments for individuals and families with children. Amenities for the family portion include a clubhouse building and an outdoor pool, a computer lab, a library, a community room with a kitchen, a playground, a dog run, a basketball court, and a turf field. The remaining 240 units will house low-income seniors. The community is a mixed-use development that will also have approximately 10,000 square feet of retail space. Amenities for the seniors include a pool, a fitness facility, a computer lab, a library, and a community room with a kitchen.
What’s a move that Nevada Hand has made to manage rising construction costs?
Rising construction costs is a challenge that developers across the country are facing. For developers of market-rate apartments, this often leads to them charging higher rents. For affordable housing developers like Nevada HAND, our focus is directed toward finding gap financing in order to get a project across the finish line. It’s challenging to mitigate the risks that come with rising construction costs, and the unfortunate reality is that it is coming at a time when there is a desperate need to increase the nation’s supply of affordable housing.
What’s one policy change you would like to see?
There is a vast and growing demand for affordable housing. Across the country, more than 10 million low-income households spend more than half of their monthly income on rent, cutting into other essential expenses like child care, medicine, groceries, and transportation. The LIHTC is our nation’s primary tool to create and preserve affordable rental housing. Virtually no new affordable rental housing can be built without the housing credit because it is financially infeasible to do so. The housing credit is limited by the amount of credits available, and Congress should expand and strengthen the housing credit to provide more affordable homes across the country.
What do you think will be the next big trend or evolution in affordable housing?
The trend that I hope to see in the affordable housing industry is the messaging around what makes affordable housing possible. There’s no magic to these deals—housing trends come and go, but, in the United States, the most important factor to building affordable housing is the financing.
Tacos or burritos?
What’s next for Audra Hamernik?
I am 100% focused on the essential work that we do at Nevada HAND. As Nevada’s largest affordable housing developer, the word “community” is at the core of why we have worked tirelessly for the past 30 years. I continue to be inspired and am excited about where we will be in the next 10 years—growing our impact by growing our portfolio and building responsibly as quickly as possible.