The defining moment of Jennifer Daughtrey Hicks' career in affordable housing happened one summer when she lived on the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets in San Francisco.
"Every day I saw so many people on the street with no homes to go to," said the native Texan. "It really affected me. I guess I didn't notice how much it affected me at first. That really pushed me into developing housing for the homeless."
The 32-year-old's passion for developing and financing single-room occupancy (SRO) housing and permanent supportive housing for single adults with low incomes has made her one of AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE's Young Leaders. Daughtrey Hicks is development project manager with Foundation Communities, a nonprofit affordable housing developer based in Austin.
Daughtrey Hicks ended up in the Haight neighborhood when she accepted an internship working in the city manager's office in San Mateo, Calif. She was attending graduate school at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. She took the internship thinking she'd like to work in city government. That plan changed after exposure to the homeless in San Francisco and witnessing how the city of San Mateo was dealing with residents' concerns about a proposed shelter for the homeless.
"I really was inspired by what San Francisco was doing for the homeless, converting old hotels, which were essentially warehousing homeless people, into quality SRO housing with services," said Daughtrey Hicks. "Plus, growing up in a border town [Laredo, Texas], I saw the effects of poverty on others and in my own family."
She wrote her master's thesis, "Reinventing SROs: Homes for the Single, Working Poor," on the subject. This was the perfect setup for her experience at Foundation Communities, which began when she applied for an internship there in 2001. As luck would have it, the nonprofit was in the beginning stages of developing Austin's first SRO project, Garden Terrace. The group had just acquired a former nursing home to convert into 88 furnished efficiency apartments. (The nonprofit has recently converted storage space at Garden Terrace into 15 additional units.)
"I was so involved in every aspect of that first project, and now of course, I'm not as involved in every single aspect," Daughtrey Hicks said. "I really got my feet wet. Actually, I was saturated."
She was working under the pressure of high expectations for the city's first SRO development, said Walter Moreau, Foundation Communities' executive director. "She researched and adopted best practices from established models all over the country," he said.
Before Garden Terrace, Foundation Communities had focused its development on affordable family properties. Single adults who are homeless or are in danger of becoming homeless need different services than families. After opening in 2003, the property was hailed as such a success by city leaders, the surrounding neighborhood, and housing advocates that plans for a second SRO community were soon under way. The group recently completed Skyline Terrace, a 100-unit SRO development that was a finalist in AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE's 2008 Readers' Choice Awards in the special-needs category.
"Foundation Communities has completed 340 units for the homeless," said Daughtrey Hicks. "That's more than Austin's goal of 325 units. That's not to say that there's not a lot more units that are needed, though."
On any given night in Austin, 4,000 people live on the streets. To combat the growing problem, the city formed a Homeless Task Force, on which Daughtrey Hicks serves. She helped to draft Austin's "Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness." And she also helped her nonprofit search for another property to convert into SRO housing. Daughtrey Hicks identified subsidy and conventional financing options for all three SRO projects, securing grants and loans totaling more than $15 million.
She "never loses sight of the goal: to create a nice home for someone who would otherwise have none," said Moreau. Through the grind of finding financing and making countless calls to supportive-housing providers all over the country, Daughtrey Hicks maintains her humility and sense of humor, punctuating conversations with her infectious laugh.
And she recently achieved another goal: Daughtrey Hicks completed the Austin Marathon last year. She ran with her running partner and friend Karen Lyons, a fellow staff member at Foundation Communities.
"I'm the most unathletic person in the world," Daughtrey Hicks laughed. "My parents were shocked I ran a marathon. If I can do it, anybody can."
What's next for this housing hero?
"I love that I learn something new every day," said Daughtrey Hicks. "It feels good to help people. So I'm still learning and still satisfied. That's all you can ask for in your daily life."
Metcalf Pushes for Change
Ben Metcalf is overseeing the development of the Ironhorse Apartments, an affordable housing community that is part of a larger effort to take 28 acres anchored by a historic train station and create a new neighborhood in a neglected section of Oakland, Calif.
This is exactly the kind of project that Metcalf, a project manager at San Francisco-based BRIDGE Housing, has wanted to do. The 32-year-old Amherst College graduate became interested in urban redevelopment after accepting an invitation from Rosanne Haggerty, a prominent affordable housing developer in New York City and an Amherst alumnus, to see the work of her nonprofit, Common Ground.
He accepted a position with the group, which came with the opportunity to live in and experience one of Common Ground's supportive-housing developments. "The apartments were small and humble, but there was a gracious lobby and community space," he said. "I was impressed by how those physical spaces empowered people to make them feel proud of where they lived."
Metcalf soon knew that he wanted to work in urban redevelopment and promote social change through real estate development.He returned to school to earn a master's degree in public policy andurban planning from Harvard University.
Combining a mix of development experience and academics, he has worked with the court system to develop a prisoner re-entry project providing Harlem residents released from jail with services, and he has published several housing-related papers.
Metcalf joined BRIDGE, a leading nonprofit, in 2004 as a fellow of the Center for Urban Redevelopment Excellence at the University of Pennsylvania and continues to manage several complicated projects. Ironhorse is scheduled to be completed in 2009.
"He has that rare ability to be equally good at all phases of development-finding deals, structuring, entitling," said Carol Galante, BRIDGE president. "He has the passion and the brains to pull off very complex transactions. Most impressive is Ben's gift for relating to all people."
Yu Stays Close to Home
NEW YORK CITY
It's next to impossible to develop affordable housing in Manhattan, according to local developers-but not for Thomas Sze Leong Yu.
Starting in 2007 as development director for Asian Americans for Equality
(AAFE), Yu led the purchase of 90 rundown, overcrowded apartments in Chinatown and the Lower East Side. The tenements are being renovated as affordable housing using only soft financing from the city and conventional bank loans. This year, the local nonprofit plans to buy another 70 apartments.
Not bad for a guy just turning 30.
Yu is inspired in part by his ties to Chinatown.
"I'm always being drawn back to the neighborhood," he said.
His family first arrived in New York in 1984 from Hong Kong, where Yu was born in 1978 in a shantytown neighborhood. "We had a lot of ad hoc housing off the city grid, with no proper plumbing or electric in many buildings," said Yu. The buildings were also firetraps, and one of Yu's earliest memories is of a fire that burned much of the neighborhood when he was 3.
The family's first New York apartments were safer, but overcrowded. When Yu's family moved into public housing in 1987, Yu remembers the two-bedroom apartment as the nicest place the family had lived up to that point.
Yu first came to AAFE as a high school volunteer, then as an intern. After graduating from Harvard, he became a journalist writing for Fortune magazine and published short stories, including descriptions of his childhood on the Lower East Side and the neighbors, graffitied hallways, and occasional homeless squatters he encountered in his public housing apartment building.
But after Sept. 11, Yu returned to AAFE. He began his development career as project manager for the first 52 new apartments in lower Manhattan financed with low-income housing tax credits after
the terrorist attacks. AAFE now plans to explore new markets like Queens. But despite Manhattan's rising prices, Yu and AAFE are also looking to buy and redevelop more buildings in Chinatown.