Heather Raspberry is executive director of the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers (HAND), comprised of over 450 organizations working across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to collaborate in the production and preservation of affordable housing in the Capital region of Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Virginia.
Since joining the organization in 2012, she has helped signifigantly grow HAND’s membership and expand its training and capacity-building programs.
What was your first job?
My first job was working the "kid-check" area at Chuck E. Cheese. That was a short-lived experience before I moved into a receptionist position at Old National Bank in its mortgage department.
What did that job teach you?
I didn’t know it at the time, but Old National Bank’s mortgage department really opened my eyes to the importance of home. Working as a receptionist allowed me to see the power of home and how it can change the trajectory of a family. I worked there for a little over five years, and, even after I went to Hampton University, I would return and work in the summers.
How did you get started in affordable housing?
When I graduated from Hampton, my first job was working as a campaign coordinator for a county commissioner campaign. As I reflect on the needs raised by community members, even then, their desires all centered around wanting an opportunity to thrive. When I moved to D.C., I worked for the housing authority where those same needs were shared by the residents we served, and I had an opportunity to dive deeper into the broader housing ecosystem of partners working toward these shared goals. Nonprofit organizations played a critical role in the space, often knowing the community's needs intimately and working in partnership to manifest strong community developments. This is what inspired me to move into the nonprofit sector and work closely with the issues that families were facing on a day-to-day basis. Oftentimes, our work in this industry and the change we're seeking is incremental, which can discourage those working toward it; however, I have been very fortunate to see the effects in live time and the work of others displayed right before my eyes.
What issue have you been spending the most time on this year?
The Housing Indicator Tool (HIT), a resource intended to track local efforts to produce affordable rental housing in the Washington region is what I've been spending a lot of my time on over the last year. We hope that by tracking local action from a regional lens the HIT will yield more housing options and facilitate cross-jurisdictional collaboration and participation from private and philanthropic organizations. The jurisdiction dashboards featured in the platform provide a much-needed baseline that allow us to measure our progress toward solving for the need: 375,000 net new housing units by 2030. The HIT also has a companion report, “Compounding Interests, Compounding Inequities: Racism, Housing, and Our Region’s Responsibility to Act,” that provides key context to support the jurisdictional data, while also underscoring that addressing the region's affordable housing crisis is imperative to addressing the racial inequities that have been embedded in housing, long before COVID-19.
How is HAND changing?
When we witnessed George Floyd's murder last year, HAND was in the middle of our racial equity learning series, and we felt affirmed that the work of the last five years positioned us to respond nimbly in the weeks and months ahead. We doubled down on our commitment to prioritizing racial equity. This year, we launched both the HIT and Equity in Action—a debt and equity platform supporting Black and Brown developers who often face obstacles accessing capital to execute their visions for equitable communities. At every level, we consider what role we can play in dismantling the systems and structures designed to benefit a select few.
For six years, HAND has been intentional in addressing the root causes of housing disparities among communities of color. Our conferences are infusing content that challenges our thinking around gentrification and the history of discrimination, segregation, and housing policy. Breaking the cycles of poverty and disinvestment are critical to supporting our communities to their fullest.
Best move during the pandemic?
I am proud of our latest initiative, which is a partnership with Greystone–Equity in Action. Keeping with our commitment to center racial equity, HAND is intentional in embedding these values into our operations and creating solutions that drive just and equitable outcomes for communities of color. We strive to model for our members what it means to address the longstanding barriers that are woven into the very fabric of our society. Even in the midst of the growing housing affordability challenge, Black and brown real estate developers are still met with the obstacle of accessing the capital needed to execute their plans to revitalize communities, and the partnership with Greystone will provide targeted solutions to address this very issue.
Share with us an interesting statistic or fact about affordable housing in your region.
In the thriving D.C. region, with over 10 million people and the third-largest economy in the U.S., access to affordable housing is unequal, out of reach for those in need, and not meeting pace with demand. Even with a $15 per hour minimum wage in D.C., it would take 88 work hours to afford a two-bedroom rental and over 100 hours in Maryland and Virginia. If we are going to fix this housing crisis, combined support from all sectors—business and philanthropic—will be crucial.
What skills have helped you the most in your career?
You can't do this work alone. Being able to build inclusive partnerships across sectors and jurisdictions has been one of the most valuable skills to help me in my career. Building a tool like the HIT required buy-in and cooperation from 10 jurisdictions in the Washington region. The HIT underscores that regional problems require regional solutions, and, once equipped with the knowledge of where we stand, we can effectively pivot to best meet the needs for housing supply and a more equitable region.
Have you picked up any new hobbies or skills in the past year?
When the city went into quarantine last year and gyms were shut down, it became clear that I would need to create a new space to support my health and wellness. So, I bought a new bike and absolutely love getting lost in and around the city on adventures. The bike adventures have also been a way for my buddies to get together when Saturday brunch was no longer an option.
If you could take a crash course on any subject, what would it be and why?
I would love to know how to produce a documentary. Whenever I have time to sit down in front of the TV, I’m watching some sort of documentary and soaking up all the information in front of me.
What's next for you?
Thanks to the success of the HIT, I am already working with our partners to build next year’s version of the tool. HAND's footprint extends from Baltimore to Richmond. Maryland has just completed its statewide housing assessment, and we're really excited to expand the HIT to the Baltimore market in 2022 and hope that we can do the same for Richmond in 2023. We are 100% committed to continuing to develop this tool to help hold local jurisdictions accountable in their efforts to expand affordable housing. Our region has a lot of work to do to meet our goals by 2030, and I am looking forward to being a part of a more equitable region where access to affordable housing at all income levels is the norm.