PATRICK CLANCY leads one of the largest nonprofit affordable housing organizations in the country.

He has been with The Community Builders (TCB) since receiving his degree from Harvard Law School in 1971 and has led the Boston-based organization since 1976. The group has developed approximately 21,000 units.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE recently caught up with Clancy to find out more about him.

Q: How did you get started in affordable housing?

A:Right away. In my first year in law school, I went to work with a community organizer working with a low-income African-American tenants’ organization and with the legal aid office supporting them. The legal strategy we undertook—rent withholding actions, receiverships, binding landlord tenant collective bargaining agreements—was very successful, but both the tenants and myself saw that there would ultimately be more success in controlling the means of production. They formed a nonprofit, which became the redeveloper of the slum housing they organized away from the slumlords. I joined a small operation across the street from the legal aid office that worked with them on those efforts, evolved and morphed more than a few times, and is now TCB.

Q:How has TCB changed over the years?

A: Beyond steady growth, the dimension on which TCB has changed most over the years is the change in the nature of the way we have sought to meet our mission to help make decent affordable housing one dimension in a larger array of opportunity for people with limited resources. This larger mission goes way back to this organization's founding when it was set up in Boston's South End by a neighborhood settlement house.

It continued over a couple of decades with our work with community development corporations (CDCs). Our goal was to be their housing engine and to contribute that capacity to what we hoped was a larger neighborhood context of activity undertaken by the CDC. We directly acquired a 400-unit Sec. 8 development with more than 1,000 kids in 1987-on the site of the very settlement house I got my formative experience in 20 years earlier-to support family success more directly by owning and operating a decentsized community and expanding our scope of activity. Our success with adults and kids there in turning their lives around and finding good jobs and going on to school and making the transition into the workforce and sticking with it led us to want to focus on larger communities of this type. We therefore worked closely with the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1993 to 1995 to create the mixed-finance vehicle for large-scale redevelopment of public housing communities into the mixed-income HOPE VI developments we see today. Since then, a large part of our work has been in creating 15 of those larger HOPE VI communities.

Q:What goals do you have for 2008?

A: The main one is to raise substantial philanthropic support and successfully launch the new practice I referred to above. We call it Ways & Means. It starts from a radical refocusing on the challenge of transition from the public economy to the market economy, which the majority of the working poor households in these mixed-income communities face. It combines a series of financial practices along with strong educational and youth development elements and invests significantly in the connections between people that can make these communities strong. We believe, with a sustained practice, we can enable working poor households to double their earned income in 10 years and enable 50 percent more young people to graduate high school and get successfully launched as young adults.

Q:What's your favorite amenity or design feature at one of your developments?

A: The health center we helped to create at Plumley Village. It began as a small dropin facility in a small space and then expanded into an incredibly efficient utilization of 500 or 600 square feet. This was my favorite phase- you can't imagine how small an exam room can truly be. Today, it thrives in twice that space and still busts its seams.

Q:What industry issue is keeping you up at night?

A: That we can spend trillions of dollars on a needless and counter-productive war, and it will take me a year to raise $50 million for a focused effort to turn mixed-income communities into platforms of success for working poor families.

Q:If someone were to make a movie about your life, who would play you, and why?

A: John Lithgow, because he has experience playing characters who tilt at windmills.

Q:What's something most people don't know about you?

A: I made my 4-year-old grandson's Halloween by donning a full Batman costume to go with his Robin.