Cris White stepped into the top post at the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) two years ago.
His journey to executive director and CEO came after holding various positions at CHFA during the past 20 years, including college intern, director of asset management, and COO.
The agency oversees multiple housing finance programs in the state, including the allocation of low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs).
White reveals what issue he has been spending the most time on, the latest changes to the LIHTC program, and his connection to the Regis University soccer team.
Q: What was your very first job?
A: When I was 14 years old, I worked for a landscaping company. I loved it. I liked earning a paycheck and having a little spare cash. Plus, they let me drive the truck around the jobsites.
Q: How did you get started in housing finance?
A: My start in housing finance was accidental. During my senior year in college, I had an internship in CHFA's business lending division. After graduation, I applied for an open position within the division and was hired. Over time, my interest in the affordable housing side of the business grew. Later when a position in asset management opened, I applied to make the switch, and the rest is history.
Q: What has been the biggest change that you've made at CHFA since becoming CEO?
A:Since becoming CEO, I've focused on creating a more inclusive environment at CHFA by breaking down departmental silos and creating a culture where we embrace the contributions of diverse perspectives. When we operate with an emphasis on inclusion, we enrich the dialogue and ensure cross-collaborative decision-making occurs. And I believe that cross-collaborative decision-making, when done correctly, results in better decisions, is more efficient, and actually saves time.
Q: What issue has required the most amount of attention from you this year?
A: I've spent a considerable amount of time working to build demand for Colorado's 4 percent LIHTC market. The increased demand placed on the 9 percent LIHTC market, and the lack of investor interest in the 4 percent market, has placed considerable stress on the resources available to support this state's need for affordable rental housing.
Q: What trends are you seeing in your LIHTC program?
A: The primary trend in the LIHTC program is that the demand for 9 percent credits has outstripped supply by a ratio of 5 to 1. The good news is that we are beginning to see demand return for the 4 percent credit. Another noteworthy trend is the increase in applications seeking LIHTCs for senior housing developments.
Q: What are the two or three biggest changes in your 2012 qualified allocation plan (QAP)?
A: Given the demand for 9 percent credits, we've made a dedicated effort to being as transparent and predictable in our allocation process as possible. We broadened the outreach and stakeholder input processes used to develop the 2012 QAP. Additionally, we have invited two members of the public to participate on the LIHTC Allocation Committee. For the first time, we've also noted several targeted housing priorities within our QAP, highlighting the housing needs and/or market areas requiring the most attention within Colorado.
Q: What's a move that CHFA made that other housing finance agencies (HFAs) may learn from?
A: HFAs that used Variable-Rate Debt Obligations (VRDOs) to fund their lending activities might learn from CHFA's experience of refunding our VRDOs to a floating-rate note, or FRN, structure. Such a structure preserves the benefit of low-cost borrowing and reduces significantly the counterparty risk associated with VRDOs. CHFA was the first HFA to do this, and it was very well received by the market.
Q: Share with us an interesting fact or statistic about affordable housing.
A: In 2011, nearly a quarter of CHFA's home finance customers purchased REO properties. This is a very positive sign not only for the housing market, but also for neighborhoods that have been negatively impacted by foreclosures and abandoned properties.
Q: Are you still a volunteer coach for the men's soccer team at Regis University? How did you get started doing that?
A: Unfortunately, I am no longer coaching the men's soccer team at Regis University. The time that my work at CHFA requires is too great to allow me to continue. I got started when the head coach, who is a very good friend of mine from our days as players there, asked me to assist him. I miss running training sessions and designing tactics for upcoming games, but I especially miss working with the players and helping them to become responsible and productive people and students.
Q: What else do you like to do when you are not working?
A: I play in a men's soccer league on Sundays in the fall and the spring. I enjoy the outdoors and make an effort to go hiking, skiing, and fly-fishing as much as possible. I also spend lots of time attending my kids' activities.
Q: Who would you like to meet and why?
A: I would like to meet Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of the Manchester United Football Club. He is arguably the most respected and successful club manager in the history of English football. I'd like to learn about his management experiences. In particular, I'd like to hear his thoughts on how has he been able to coach multiple generations of soccer players, relating to and motivating them despite a significant difference in age between him and his players and, in some cases, among the players themselves.
Q: What's next for Cris White?
A:It is difficult to think about what might be next, because I'm so focused on what we are doing today. This is my second year as CHFA's executive director, and there is still a lot that I want to do here in the time to come.