Christine C. Quinn is president and CEO of Win (formerly Women in Need), the largest provider of shelter and services for homeless families in New York City.
She was named to the post in 2015, but most people probably still know her as the former speaker of the New York City Council. Quinn, who continues to be a frequent commentator on news shows, stepped away from government after losing a bid for mayor in 2013 and found a new purpose at one of the city’s leading nonprofits.
She discusses how Win brings her full circle to her early advocacy days and tells us about the organization’s ambitious new supportive housing development.
Why did you take the job at Win?
My first job was as a tenant organizer, working with lower-income New Yorkers as a housing advocate. Many of the people I worked with were poor women of color, some of whom were young single moms, and I found that fighting side by side with them was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. Taking the job at Win was a way to get back to my advocacy roots and help these vulnerable women break the cycle of homelessness once and for all.
How has your political experience prepared you to lead Win in siting and development decisions?
This industry requires constant collaboration, hearing all voices in the discussion process, and working hard to secure community input—all of which played important roles during my time as a councilmember and speaker of the New York City Council. My role at Win frequently comes down to acting as a convening force, as well as an advocate for the women and families we serve every day.
Affordable housing is a huge issue in many communities, so why doesn’t it get more attention from elected officials and others?
Lately, we’ve seen politicians around the country increasingly talk more and more about income inequality, yet they are unfortunately unable to directly tie this issue to affordable housing. When you consider the number of people who work 60 to 80 hours per week and are still unable to pay their rent, the two should go hand in hand. They are twin crises, and if they’re not at the top of an elected official’s priority list they should be.
Tell us about Win’s latest development, Stone House.
Stone House is one of the most ambitious and transformative projects Win has done to date—in fact, it’s the largest purpose-built permanent supportive housing development for families in New York state. The facility holds 96 permanent supportive-housing units and 64 affordable units, and offers on-site services to families, such as case management, job readiness, and income building. It’s a monumental step forward in combatting our homelessness crisis and, most importantly, provides families the tools and resources they need to retain and find permanent housing.
What did this last project teach you?
Stone House taught Win that no matter how large or insurmountable a goal might seem, you should never tell yourself it’s impossible. It took over a decade of patience, persistence, and at the end of the day just hard work to make Stone House a reality. I’m grateful to have worked alongside such a dedicated group of people who saw it through.
What else is Win working on?
Over the past few months, Win has been working to shed light on the spiraling number of children in New York City shelters through our public advocacy campaign, The Forgotten Face of Homelessness: Children. Every day, thousands of New York City children wake up and get ready for school in a shelter. But despite this staggering statistic, these students lack the services necessary to succeed in the classroom and beyond. Our report urges the city and state to stabilize housing and expand support for homeless children by increasing funding for school social workers, among other policy solutions, and provide families with the tools they need to break the cycle of homelessness.
What does community mean to you?
To me, community means a group of people who support each other and are working toward a common goal. It’s a sense of belonging.
If you could take a crash course in any subject, what would it be?
I would love to learn a new language.
What advice would you give others going into the nonprofit sector or affordable housing business?
Figure out what issues you’re passionate about and look for other people who share those same passions. If you can seize an opportunity doing something you love that helps people, you will find a great deal of joy and fulfillment in your work.
Favorite song about New York:
Well it should come as no surprise that I’m going to go with a Bruce Springsteen song, but the hard part will be deciding on just one. Whenever I hear Working on a Dream, I can’t help but think about the thousands of New Yorkers who wake up every morning determined and ready to work hard for what they want. We are a city of opportunity and possibility, and this song fully embodies that.