Meet Lisa Gomez, COO of L+M Development Partners, a leading affordable housing firm. She oversees the operations at the New York–based company, which owned more than 11,000 affordable housing units at the start of the year, with several projects in the pipeline.
An industry veteran, Gomez has also served in senior management at the New York City Housing Development Corp. (HDC), overseeing $1 billion in annual bond financing and mortgage insurance. At HDC, she was also responsible for developing and executing policy and financing programs to stimulate the creation of affordable housing. Gomez was also a New York City planning commissioner from 2004 to 2007.
What was your very first job, and what did it teach you?
My very first job that had a timecard—versus babysitting, hauling hay, and working in a greasy spoon—was during high school working as an aide in the surgery department in the hospital where my mom was an OR nurse. It basically entailed cleaning up the OR after surgical cases. It taught me responsibility since we were on call and had to show up whenever we were needed. It also helped me learn how to anticipate and think ahead.
What was your first job in affordable housing?
My first job in affordable housing was working at a small nonprofit in Brooklyn, the People’s Firehouse. I didn’t know anything but had gotten interested in development while working at a large commercial real estate firm in a different capacity. During a big downturn, we all got laid off, and I decided to pursue learning development on my own. The path wasn’t as well marked back then as it is now, but I was eager to learn—and cheap labor—so I figured it out.
What was a pivotal moment in your career?
Real estate is synonymous with pivoting, so I’ve had a lot of pivotal moments. However, working at HDC during the early days of the Bloomberg administration was really exciting. It allowed me to help set policy to spur the creation of affordable housing. During this time, HDC was really ramping up efforts, and it was great to play a part in that.
What did you learn from your last project?
We’re about to start delivering buildings at Essex Crossing, a project we won through an RFP (request for proposal) with BFC Partners and Taconic Investment Partners in 2013. The RFP process for the site was very competitive, with many of the top firms in New York City in the mix. I believe that we won, in part, because of our track record of working collaboratively with communities to create affordable housing. With this project we found we could compete and succeed against larger, fancier firms. It’s also fascinating to be participating in the redevelopment of a significant site in Manhattan that was cleared through urban renewal but left vacant for decades due to politics.
Tell us about a project that you are working on now:
Affordable housing is such a multifaceted business, and I’m lucky that my role involves both the corporate side and the project side. On the corporate side, I’m very excited about new technology that we’re implementing with a California-based company called Dealpath. As we grow and our portfolio ages, we need new tools to help us manage our deals and assets. Our industry is not as forward- thinking about technology as others are, so I’m excited that we’re heading in this direction.
On the project side, we are teaming up with BFC and Taconic again for a large project in Coney Island. Coney Island is a special place, so we want to make sure what we deliver will be great for the residents. There are also some very tricky zoning and flood requirements to navigate, which always makes things interesting.
Why affordable housing matters:
Housing is one of the biggest expenditures a family makes, which is why building more affordable housing is so important—but we need a better way to talk about it. Too often, the conversation on the ground is dominated by NIMBYism or fears of gentrification, which I find reductive. The minimum wage hasn’t kept up with inflation and hard-working people are rent burdened, doubled up, and increasingly, homeless. In New York City, there was recently a report that projects that 1 in 7 kids will be homeless in elementary school. That’s not OK. I hope we can engage productively as a nation about housing.
What was it like serving on the New York City Planning Commission?
I learned a lot, especially about areas of the city I was less familiar with. The Staten Island Bluebelt, for example, is a really interesting ecological system to manage stormwater that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. I also hope that I was able to bring some of my knowledge about housing finance to the conversation.
Best advice that you’ve received:
From my grandfather: Do something, even if it’s wrong. I am definitely not a passive person! Something else that I learned while in banking: It’s how you conduct yourself when things go bad (as they sometimes do in real estate). There were certain borrowers who were highly thought of because they did the right thing when they had problems on their projects.
Advice for others in the industry:
I was recently on a Professional Women in Construction panel, and several of us had similar perspectives on this topic: Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t apologize for asking questions. Always work hard and try to exceed expectations.
What industry trends are you monitoring?
In New York, there’s a slew of legislation that while well intentioned has significant cost implications and could negatively impact local hiring, which is very important to L+M. And like everyone else, I’m watching what will happen at the federal level.
What do you do when you’re not working?
There’s a lot of overlap between my work life and my nonwork life, which is OK, because I love what I do and the people I work with. However, I recently got a new kayak, and I’m having fun exploring the waterways of the Bronx and lower Westchester.
Favorite book and why:
I’m a huge reader, and I have too many favorite books to mention. However, in our office a bunch of us are doing a book group to better understand different perspectives on a changing city. Right now, we’re reading Making the Rent in Bed Stuy, which will be followed by How to Kill a City. Issues of community and place are so personal and nuanced—it’s always easy to place blame, but there’s a complicated narrative to understand.