Meet Deidre Schmidt, the new head of CommonBond Communities in St. Paul, Minn.

D. Schmidt
D. Schmidt

Just the third CEO in the nonprofit organization’s 43-year history, she brings more than 20 years of affordable housing experience to the role.

Schmidt was recently principal owner of One Roof Global Consulting, which helps to improve the quality, access, and affordability of housing throughout the world. She has also held leadership roles at Minneapolis' Brighton Development Corp., National Equity Fund, and other affordable housing firms.

CommonBond, which owns 92 properties with more than 5,200 affordable units, is the largest nonprofit provider of affordable housing in the Upper Midwest.

How did you get started in affordable housing?

I interned for Artspace Projects, which had less than a half-dozen staff at the time. I fell in love with the work immediately. So many people with different skills and representing so many interests have to come together to execute a project. The result is a lasting physical element that shapes the city and that also touches people more intimately than any other structure in the built environment.

Describe the town you grew up in:

My early childhood was on a goat farm in Western Wisconsin. It was pretty isolated. In my junior high and high school years, we lived in a modest suburb of the Twin Cities that had affordable housing in a great school district.

Since joining CommonBond, what have you been spending most of your time on?

I started by listening to CommonBond’s fantastic leadership team and board, visiting our properties, meeting residents, funders, and other stakeholders. More recently, I’ve been revisiting the strategic plan with an eye toward implementation. Having vision is so important, but we have to also understand the incremental steps along the path. That clarity and practicality are what a team needs to convert vision into reality.

As the new CEO, what are your priorities this year?

On the resident-facing side of the business, deepen our investment in outcomes-informed services for our residents, including enhancing our ability to gauge what those outcomes are. On the real estate side, expanding CommonBond’s products and activities beyond LIHTC. In every interaction, providing an experience consistent with our values.

What changes will you bring to CommonBond? 

I was so lucky to inherit quality systems, a driven team, and a solid foundation of community support. The changes I make will be subtle; focused on helping staff get what they need to deliver on mission while taking responsibility for their lines of business. I look forward to sharing the exposure that I’ve had to different housing delivery models from across the world.  Sometimes we can unlock our own potential just by being exposed to other ways of thinking.

Why affordable housing matters:

In addition to recognizing housing as one of the most basic personal human needs, I view housing as a critical piece of public infrastructure; a foundational investment that underlies and makes possible so much other social and economic productivity. I am proud that Minnesota has a tradition of prioritizing such investments. CommonBond is one of the trusted stewards of such investment; a responsibility that I don’t take lightly.

Recent a-ha! moment:

Understanding CommonBond’s case management approach to services and the magnitude of the savings to our portfolio that results from basic stability and independence services. I am hungry for more revelations as we collect, manage, and analyze data on our services because these are an integral part of who we are. Understanding can help us improve our value and efficiency.

What have you learned from your work and teaching on housing outside the United States that helps you here at home?

There are many universals, but no one-size-fits all approach. We can’t assume success by copying what worked elsewhere, even across neighborhoods within a city, let alone across state or national borders. The comfort and efficiency that we gain from standardizing programs and approaches can choke out creativity. It takes effort and critical thinking to understand and respond to local needs and opportunities.

Connect with Donna Kimura, deputy editor of Affordable Housing Finance, on Twitter @DKimura_AHF.