Mark Thiele recently took the helm of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO), an organization of more than 20,000 housing and community development providers.

Mark Thiele
Mark Thiele

He was appointed CEO after a nationwide search, following the departure of Adrianne Todman, who became deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Thiele, who was recently interim CEO of the Houston Housing Authority, discusses his priorities and the year ahead.

What’s the biggest issue for NAHRO members this year? What are they talking about?

There’s a number of issues, but fundamentally folks are talking about funding. They’re really concerned about public housing receiving full funding for capital needs. They’re talking about staffing. We’re in the middle of the Great Resignation, and that affects housing authorities, community development partners, developer partners, and HUD. It’s been a real challenge as folks are using this moment to sort of reposition themselves in life and redefine their relationship with work. There are also supply chain issues. The world is going through challenges with getting projects done on time and within budget because everything is delayed and everything is more expensive.

What are your priorities during your first year as CEO?

NAHRO’s five pillars are we advocate, we inform, we train, we lift members up, and we connect. Our members expect us to be leaders in the industry in all of those areas. On the first point, we had a very strong advocacy campaign last year, and we look to improve upon that. We work hard to amplify member voices to our local and national elected officials. We have an outstanding legislative affairs team that works with congressional leaders and staff to increase awareness. We are constantly informing folks about updates on regulations and policy. We are pleased to have Eric Oberdorfer as the director of our policy department and Libby Miller providing news and keeping folks informed. It’s more important than ever to have information now because life is coming at us so quickly. Our housers need to be prepared. In training, we’re expanding our professional development services. ... We lift our members up, recognizing the outstanding work that our members do in the community. Part of this will be to focus on those who work at smaller agencies. And, most importantly, we connect our members with each other. I’ve been in a conference season, visiting mode. I’ve had the opportunity to visit with five of our regions, and I’ll finish June visiting with the other three. Our members are tremendously excited to be back in the same rooms with each other and to connect with longtime professionals who can help them solve these thorny challenges that we’re up against. Those five things are my now and forever focuses.

What issue have you been spending the most time on this year?

There isn’t a single issue. There are too many parts to this, but right now it’s housing costs, affordability and supply chain issues, homelessness, voucher utilization, over-regulation, underfunding, inequity, the Great Resignation. What I would say is that housers are particularly good at being cleareyed and practical about challenges, and NAHRO is in the best position to assist members in accomplishing their objectives.

How is NAHRO changing?

We are working to improve our systems. We’re going through an AMS [association management system] transition to improve our service delivery to members online. The biggest thing at the moment is we’re making a deep commitment to being in the field and hearing members. We’re also going to launch a comprehensive member survey soon to make sure we’re hearing very directly from our members about what they would like to see. I would say historically they’ve pointed to the five pillars that I mentioned.

What’s a housing policy or program change that you would like to see?

We are always looking for additional flexibilities relative to the regulations, additional ways to cut through the red tape. Our team recently suggested as part of some additional vouchers that are going to be provided by the administration that there be less restrictions on their use and more local control. We’re constantly pushing for more ability to make decisions at the local level. In addition, NAHRO would like to see full funding for administrative fees and expanded uses for administrative fees and Housing Assistance Payments funding, including the ability to use those funds for security deposits, application fees, and other uses that increase voucher utilization.

NAHRO will host its online Summer Symposium and Virtual Capitol Hill Day, Aug. 2-3, and its in-person National Conference, Sept. 22-24, in San Diego.