Cristian Ahumada is the new executive director of Clifford Beers Housing, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit developer.
Started in 2005, the organization builds permanent supportive housing for people with special needs, focusing on those who have been homeless and have mental health needs. It has placed into service six projects with 219 housing units and has plans to build more.
Ahumada, who was recently director of housing at Skid Row Housing Trust in L.A., brings 20 years of experience to his new role.
What was your first job in affordable housing?
After college, I worked as a “pseudo” asset manager/junior project manager with Jack Gardner (now president and CEO of The John Stewart Co.) at Hollywood Community Housing. Back then, Hollywood Housing was just starting out and had done only three projects.
Now, you are head of Clifford Beers Housing. Share an interesting fact about the organization.
The name itself is interesting. “Clifford Beers” refers to a gentleman from a wealthy family born in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, mental illness ran in the family, and he and all of his siblings were placed in mental institutions. However, unlike his siblings, Mr. Beers was able to overcome his mental illness. After he was released from the institution, he obtained an education and used it to write about his experiences, including treatment of mental health and the problems associated with systems in place at the time. His writings established a model for what the understanding and treatment of mental health are today.
What are your plans for the organization?
Jim Bonar, the founding executive director of Clifford Beers, took the organization through its infancy and developed the first projects, which are always difficult because lending partners will scrutinize newer organizations more and require things like guarantees. Partnering with others to apply for low-income housing tax credits is necessary in order to receive full experience points. Now, however, the organization has almost reached the point of being fully independent of financial partnerships. The “2.0 version” will be able to rely on its own balance sheet, reputation, and experience without having to partner with other agencies. From a collaborative position, we will continue to seek out partnerships. For instance, we are pursuing a project with Mental Health America in Long Beach and a project with an organization called Tri Cities, which is basically representatives of Pomona, LaVerne, and Claremont, in Pomona. Our new model is more about collaborating with service partners to enhance service delivery to our residents and simultaneously becoming financially independent.
If you could add any feature or amenity to your developments, what would it be and why?
After having done so many of these developments, I think a lot of people will arrive at the same conclusion I did: outside of basic needs like sufficient natural light and air, buildings need open space, opportunities for green areas, and opportunities for recreational space. This is as much for children as for adults. For example, a half-court so residents can play basketball, opportunities for gardening, or a connection to open space are great examples of these amenities. People are doing interesting projects with school districts. Even buildings that are sited adjacent to open space rather than providing it directly serve an important function. Those connections and features are important in a time when we are fighting diabetes, obesity, and mental illness. To the degree we can bring some of these features to developments to create more than just the housing, I think we can significantly improve the stability of folks and enrich their lives.
Affordable housing matters because …
The gaps toward economic and social mobility are too great.
If you could take a crash course in any subject, what would you learn?
Bushido. Bushido emphasizes zen. I think what we do, this amount of work, requires you to function on all cylinders at all your capacities. In order for you to do that, you have to be very centered. For example, you chase the project not the money. You are chasing a concept, an ideal. You need to be centered in what it is you want. You have to be in some degree void of ego. You have to have patience and be very tactical. It’s very strategic work.