Born and raised in Kansas City, Kan., Tony Salazar learned early on about maintaining an urban community. Growing up in the 1950s in a segregated Mexican neighborhood and attending segregated schools and restaurants, he says trimming trees, laying sidewalks, keeping parks clean, and running schools all were essential for the well-being of the community and part of the lifestyle.

That upbringing led him to dedicate his entire professional career to rebuilding inner-city communities. And for the past three decades, he’s helped make St. Louis–based McCormack Baron Salazar (MBS) one of the nation’s leading companies in urban revitalization.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and his master’s degree in social work specializing in administration from the University of Michigan, Salazar started his career administering block grant funds in Kansas City. He then became the founding director of the Kansas City Neighborhood Alliance, a nonprofit that developed affordable housing and financed developments sponsored by other nonprofit organizations.

“Urban community development has always been part of my lifestyle and career,” he says. “I fell into it early, from government to the nonprofit, and then I wanted to go to scale, so I needed a for-profit partner, and that’s where I reached out and found [MBS co-founder] Richard Baron.”

Salazar, on the nonprofit side, and Baron, on the for-profit side, partnered on several deals, and after a few years, they decided to continue working together, with Salazar joining the company in 1985 and moving to Los Angeles in 1993 to set up its West Coast operations.

As principal and president of West Coast operations for MBS, Salazar has been instrumental in developing new business, creating joint-venture partnerships with community groups and nonprofits, and pushing for innovative solutions to meet community needs. He says he’s personally been involved in about 6,000 of the 20,000-plus units MBS has developed. These include seven HOPE VI developments; three Choice Neighborhoods Implementation projects; five seniors housing developments, including one of the nation’s first affordable housing projects for LGBT seniors; 10 mixed-income communities; seven light-rail transit villages; rental housing for people with HIV; and five earthquake-recovery projects.

“My partner, Tony Salazar, has dedicated himself to improving the lives of families, children, and the elderly in disadvantaged communities throughout the United States and, more recently, Puerto Rico,” says Baron, MBS chairman. “His tenacity and commitment have energized our staff for decades, and he has rightly earned the respect of those in our industry.”

Salazar is proud of the work he’s done over the years in urban neighborhoods.

“When I started in this business, people were moving out of the urban cities way out into the suburbs. There was nothing but distress and neglect left behind,” he says. “As we’ve worked in those neighborhoods all those years and we still have those properties and maintain them, our developments have proven to be good assets and have helped further develop those communities while at the same time maintaining affordability for families so the gentrification is minimized.”

Salazar is also a firm believer in mixed-income housing.

“What I’ve learned, and what the company has proven over time, is that people of different incomes live together just fine. Building the same units for people of different incomes—people will live together; people will enjoy the sense of community together as long as it’s built to a high quality and managed well.”

Salazar plans to take a sabbatical at the end of this year and then will return to MBS on a part-time basis. He serves on the boards of Enterprise Community Partners and the Center for Housing Policy and is active in the Latino community.