Barry Zigas’ entry into the affordable housing business was serendipitous. When he started his career as a journalist at industry publication Housing and Development Reporter, little did he know it would lead to over four decades of influencing policy and furthering investments for underserved communities.
He wrote extensively about the affordable housing industry and covered the passage of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974. “I learned everything I knew by reporting,” he says.
That knowledge took him to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, where he was tasked with training and creating guidebooks for the nation’s mayors and city staffs regarding community and economic development as well as affordable housing. He rose to assistant executive director, lobbying for mayors of the nation’s largest cities.
In 1984, he became president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), where he led national advocacy efforts to promote housing for very low-income people.
“For four decades, Barry Zigas has devoted himself to housing justice,” says Michael Bodaken, president of the National Housing Trust and former Hall of Fame inductee. “Barry, together with [founder] Cushing Dolbeare, was the driving force behind the growth and development of the NLIHC for over a decade—a decade of significant federal housing progress—between 1984 and 1993.”
During Zigas’ tenure at the NLIHC, he testified before Congress, was consulted by congressional staffs, and was instrumental in the adoption of critical housing programs, such as the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC), the HOME program, and the Low-Income Housing Preservation and Resident Homeownership Act (LIHPRA).
“For sheer impact and durability, the LIHTC is hard to beat,” he says of his accomplishments while at the NLIHC. “I’m also proud of the LIHPRA legislation adopted by Congress at a time when we really were concerned that 1960s affordable housing would be lost with expiring use. The Coalition was a voice in that debate to get legislation adopted that eventually led to the preservation of many of those units.”
In 1993, he joined mortgage giant Fannie Mae and became more engaged on the homeownership side.
“I moved from one part of housing to the other, but it always kept my focus on how to increase access to decent affordable housing for low- to moderate-income people,” he says.
At Fannie, he led the community lending efforts and the creation of affordable homeownership programs, including two multiyear strategies to invest more than $3 trillion in affordable housing for underserved populations. He also was responsible for regulatory and corporate reporting on the government-sponsored enterprise’s housing goals.
Since 2008, Zigas has served as director of housing policy for the Consumer Federation of America, spending a lot of his time on mortgage finance reform and finding a path forward out of conservatorship to a stable future for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He also is principal of Zigas and Associates, where he provides strategy and policy services for private and nonprofit organizations, such as Mercy Housing, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Low Income Investment Fund.
“At each stage, I've found some new challenge that has engaged me and kept me working for social justice and equity for low-income people—fulfillment of what I think of as the American dream,” he says.
Zigas and his wife, Jodie Levin-Epstein, also a social justice advocate, reside in Washington, D.C. They have two adult sons.