It all started as a lunch between two industry friends. Now, it’s a massive, change-making network spanning a dozen states and counting.

The Women’s Affordable Housing Network—or WAHN, as most call it—has seen explosive growth in recent years, morphing from an Atlanta-based twosome in 2007 into the nationwide, 1,000-plus-member version it is today.

And that’s just the start of it. If you talk to president Ashley Northcutt, it’s clear WAHN is in a major growth phase. The group will expand to 15 new states in the new year (a self-imposed limit so leaders can give each new chapter the proper attention) and has been sought out for countless conventions. It’s even gearing up for its own conference a few years down the road.

“It's really incredible,” says Richelle Patton, who kick-started the group 15 years ago along with colleague Ann Cone. “Ann and I just stand back, and we're just amazed at the power of community.”

WAHN’s recent boom stems from both a growing nationwide interest in gender equity and inclusion as well as some hard work by the group’s team behind the scenes.

“We've been a little bit more structured in our approach to kind of getting the word out there about WAHN,” says Nina Galluzzo, WAHN’s program director of events. “We’ve done a little bit more outreach at state housing events. And once we once we raised our hands, everyone just seems to be joining this movement.”

The Road to Change

That “movement” is one Northcutt plans to focus her efforts on entirely in 2023. She even left her full-time gig as a certified public accountant for Tidwell Group in order to give WAHN the attention it deserves.

“As of December 31, I will be full-time focused on the network,” she says.

It’s likely a smart move, as Northcutt, Galluzzo, and the rest of the 16-member leadership team have big plans for WAHN in the new year.

For one, they plan to get more involved in housing legislation and will even have quarterly legislative updates to determine how members can help shape new laws.

“We’re really just trying to support women and housing and understand how we can have a greater voice in the industry,” Galluzzo says.

They’re also bringing in a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant to spearhead the group’s NET-work classes, which, Northcutt says, “walk members through topics I call, ‘low hanging fruit to make a difference.’ Every company then feels empowered to start making differences on equality.”

WAHN will also be hosting panels that address various inclusion and equity topics and will be growing its college outreach program, which educates college-aged women on potential careers in the industry and even connects them to potential post-graduation employers. So far, the group has visited the University of Wisconsin, with the University of Georgia next on the list.

The newly launched Ally Committee, which offers men in affordable housing an opportunity to connect, share perspectives, and work to further equity in their own workplaces, will be a top priority, too. It’s just one more way WAHN is furthering the support women have in the industry.

“The whole mission was to facilitate networking and, more importantly, so that women in our industry would feel supported, like they're not alone, and to give them a place where they feel empowered,” Patton says. “Ashley and the other leaders have really taken it to the next level.”