Wonder Women

These 10 leaders are taking affordable housing to new heights.

By Donna KimuraChristine Serlin

Women make up nearly half of the nation’s workforce but are still significantly outnumbered in senior leadership positions—only about one in five C suite leaders is a woman and only one in 25 is a woman of color, according to a 2018 study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co.

It’s a similar story in real estate. The Urban Land Institute (ULI) recently found that women make up 25% of the organization’s members but account for only about 14% of its CEOs. Even fewer run large firms. Of the female CEOs surveyed by ULI, only 7% lead companies with more than 100 employees.

To raise the visibility of women in affordable housing and the significant contributions they make, affordable housing finance is highlighting 10 leading women in the industry.

Meet these developers, finance executives, government leaders, and advocates on the following pages.

Nina Janopaul

ARLINGTON PARTNERSHIP FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Twelve years ago, Nina Janopaul took a leap to go from an affordable housing consulting practice on the national level to head a small nonprofit—the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH)—in Arlington, Va.

“Even though it only had three employees, almost no cash, and several hundred units, I knew it had potential. It was a game changer for me,” she says.

During her tenure as president and CEO of APAH, Janopaul has grown its portfolio to 1,800 affordable units, with another 1,000 units in the pipeline, all of which are much needed in the region.

According to Janopaul, in 2000, 26% of the housing stock in Arlington was affordable to people earning under 60% of the area median income. Today, it’s down to less than 9%, with much of the stock becoming market rate.

“This dramatic loss has created a dire situation,” she says. “We see more families are being forced out of the attractive, transit-oriented suburbs and see people who are trying to stay here doubling up or living in substandard conditions.”

APAH has been busier than ever, working on nine developments as well as new innovations to create housing. The nonprofit currently is going through entitlements and approvals on a path-breaking project, partnering with a local American Legion chapter that owns a 1950s building two blocks from a Metrorail station.

“The Legion was experiencing declining cash resources and membership—very land rich and cash poor,” says Janopaul. “Members felt that their building wasn’t attractive for a new generation of veterans.”

To solve that problem, APAH plans to build a 6,000-square-foot modern Legion post with a business center and partnerships for counseling and services and 160 units of affordable housing on top of that, with 50% of the units having a veterans preference. 
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“I think that’s a need of our community,” Janopaul says. “I’ve always tried to pay attention to what are the deepest needs in the community and how our work aligns with that.”

Advocacy, too, is important to Janopaul, who serves on the boards of the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers and the Northern Virginia Housing Alliance and is a trustee of Virginia Diocesan Homes. —C.S.

Maria Torres-Springer

NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING PRESERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT

After leading the nation’s largest municipal housing development agency, Maria Torres-Springer will step into the new role of vice president of U.S. programs at the Ford Foundation in May.

As commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), she’s been focused on meeting mayor Bill de Blasio’s ambitious goal to produce 300,000 affordable homes by 2026. That’s up from the initial plan of 200,000 units by 2024.

“We’re well on pace, even given the accelerated plan,” says Torres-Springer. “That, for us, is a testament to the extraordinary efforts of the affordable housing community here, and it’s really a commitment on the part of the mayor to make sure that New York City is leading the charge, and there’s an incredible amount of energy put to helping solve the crisis.”

To meet the lofty goals, the city has invested billions of dollars toward the housing plan, introduced mandatory inclusionary housing policies, and been aggressive about designating city-owned properties for affordable housing.

Torres-Springer brings both policy and personal experience to the table.

“I grew up in Sec. 8 housing, so I have first-hand experience of how important it is to make sure that home is not a source of anxiety for families,” she says. “Unfortunately, for too many families in New York and across this country, instead of being a source of respite, housing has become a source of anxiety, given the increasing costs.”

She still recalls the angst felt by her family the night before an annual Sec. 8 inspection and what would happen if the review didn’t go well. “That feeling has never quite left me,” she says. “For me, what that’s meant is never losing track of what’s at stake about we do.”

A California native who’s earned degrees from Yale and Harvard, Torres-Springer started her career in affordable housing in New York City with the Local Initiatives Support Corp. and has worked in different government roles. Prior to leading HPD, she served as president of the New York City Economic Development Corp.

She points to a few traits that have helped her in her career, especially in the work of government.

“It’s incredibly important to have a real sense of urgency about the work you’re doing as well as uncommon patience,” Torres-Springer says. “You have to have both at the same time always.”

She’s also a big believer that “identity sparks change.” “It has been a real blessing and a real responsibility as a woman, a person of color, someone who grew up poor, to cherish and not squander the leadership opportunities I’ve had, as a way to both drive the change that I believe in but also to lift up and support people who come from some of the same backgrounds that I’ve come from,” says the mother of two young daughters. “Hopefully, I can show that they can succeed not despite that background but because of it.” —D.K.

Tanya Eastwood

GREYSTONE AFFORDABLE DEVELOPMENT

Tanya Eastwood’s career path didn’t go exactly as planned, shifting from the medical field to real estate in the late 1980s.

“I realized I could still positively impact lives but in a different way than nursing,” says the president of Greystone Affordable Development on her transition from a career running a home health business to affordable housing.

She found her passion for real estate at Forest City Residential Group, where she started in asset management and quickly moved up the ranks to regional vice president, spearheading development on the East Coast—from Class A luxury and adaptive-reuse projects to the preservation of at-risk affordable housing.

Eastwood moved to Greystone in 2005, but the role she was hired for quickly took a new shape when a client in South Carolina with a large U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) portfolio was struggling with the challenge of preserving the rural stock with minimal disruption to its thousands of low-income and elderly residents. “We went to work and came up with a plan to do major surgery on their portfolio, from recapitalization to complete renovation,” she says.

The team pooled multiple properties across the state into one large, complex, 4% low-income housing tax credit transaction. By pooling the properties, the team was able to spread the expensive 4% bond transaction costs across several properties while preserving many more units than otherwise would be feasible. It was successful, and a model was born to replicate in other states.

“USDA Rural Development has 14,000 of these aging properties across the country. They’re all facing the same mounting financial and physical challenges, but capital providers haven’t been focused on the rural market. Based on logistical and geographic hurdles, it is easier for the market to focus on more dense projects in urban environments. But these rural properties were rapidly approaching obsolescence and needed immediate attention. That housing stock is so critical to residents in smaller communities where there aren’t many affordable housing options,” says Eastwood. “We welcomed the challenge and said, ‘Let’s make a business out of this.’”

With Eastwood at the helm, Greystone Affordable Development, which serves as the development partner for owners who need assistance preserving their portfolios, has helped preserve about 13,000 units at 320 properties with $1.5 billion in total development costs over the past decade.

For Eastwood, it all comes back to the people she’s helping serve. “It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind, but at the end of the transaction, this is someone’s home.”

She is active in several rural industry organizations. She is past president and chairman of the Council for Affordable and Rural Housing and is the chairperson of the Fannie Mae’s Rural Advisory Council. —C.S.

Bev Bates

THE COMMUNITY BUILDERS

Bev Bates has been an essential figure in the community development field for over 30 years.

It’s a world she stumbled into by way of an elective course at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., and never left. Her career began at Brightwood Development Corp., a community development corporation in Springfield, and she later worked for the commonwealth doing training and outreach to community-based organizations.

But since 1985, she’s been an integral part of helping transform The Community Builders (TCB) into one of the nation’s leading nonprofit developers.

When she first started at TCB, the nonprofit was Massachusetts based and primarily a consulting group. But over the years it has evolved to focus almost exclusively on development in 15 states.

“My own professional growth is directly tied to the growth and choices that TCB has made along the way,” says Bates.

Through her work at TCB, Bates has overseen nearly 16,000 units of affordable and mixed-income housing. She opened several of TCB’s offices on the East Coast and was responsible for establishing the successful Pittsburgh office from ground up and helping to revitalize the East Liberty neighborhood. She moved back to Boston in 2001 to become senior vice president of development operations—a role she still has today—providing support and oversight in finance, construction, design, and project management for TCB’s real estate development activities.

“I’ve gotten a lot of satisfaction putting together a support system to help people working in our regional offices do their work,” she says.

Bates’ advice for other women in the industry is to find your voice. “Oftentimes your voice can be the strongest when you find your passion.”

And her passion is the ability to make real changes in the opportunities that people need to have successful lives.

“I think we are painfully aware that the inequalities in our country are only growing. Housing is tangible, but there’s more that we do to make sure that the housing foundation also becomes a springboard to help people get ahead in the world,” she says. —C.S.

Laura Bailey

CAPITAL ONE

Laura Bailey leads the community lending, investing, and grant-making initiatives of Capital One, making her one of affordable housing’s top finance executives.

Since 2007, Capital One has invested $10.1 billion in affordable housing via loans and investments through the low-income housing tax credit program; financed over 116,400 affordable units; and, by extension, created more than 131,000 jobs.

Bailey tells people that her first affordable housing transaction was by accident.

“I didn’t realize there was something special about making a loan to a property that was affordable,” she says. “After the fact, we realized that it would help the bank I was working for at the time for Community Reinvestment Act purposes. From my standpoint, it was a good loan opportunity that made sense.”

Bailey, with her team, has continued to work on deal after deal. Earlier in her career, she worked at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan Chase. She joined Capital One in late 2006 and has been instrumental in building the company’s community development business.

“We work hard to provide more than the building people live in,” says Bailey, senior vice president and head of community finance and community affairs. “We try to think about what it’s like to live there, the resident experience.”

Over the years, Capital One has become very involved with housing for people with special needs, often incorporating funding to provide resident services at the developments it invests in.

Capital One started out working primarily in New York, Washington, D.C., and the Gulf Coast. As the company’s retail banking business has grown, so has its effort to finance good places to live throughout the country, including Boulder, Colo.; Los Angeles; Miami; and Seattle.

Bailey is also active in the larger industry, recently joining the board of the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition and serving as a trustee on the Enterprise Community Partners board. She’s also been active with the Affordable Housing Investors Council.

The mother of an adult son with special needs, Bailey leads a Capital One group for employees with special needs or who have a family member with special needs. —D.K.

Lisa Rice

NATIONAL FAIR HOUSING ALLIANCE

Lisa Rice is on the frontlines fighting to end housing discrimination.

President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), she been working to ensure and expand equal housing opportunities for the past 25 years.

Rice stepped into the top post at NFHA last year after having served as the organization’s executive vice president.

Under her watch, NFHA, along with other groups, has filed a lawsuit calling on the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to reinstate a requirement that local and state governments address segregated housing patterns as a condition of receiving HUD funding. The complaint alleges that HUD unlawfully suspended the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing requirement in January 2018. An initial court ruling sided with HUD, but NFHA continues to fight on.

Rice’s interest in housing started early when she was a teenager and landed an internship at The Fair Housing Center in Toledo, Ohio, an organization led by Shanna Smith, who pioneered numerous cases under fair housing.

“I was blessed to work under a wonderful, powerful woman who turned out to be an incredible mentor,” Rice says. “I got the fair housing bug, and it stuck.”

When Smith left Ohio, Rice became president of the local organization. Smith then eventually convinced Rice to join her at NFHA in Washington, D.C.

“We worked hard on many, many cases,” Rice says. “There were often days that it didn’t look like things were going to turn out well, but she taught me to stick to it. If I believed I was right and doing the right thing, to not give up. She taught me the importance of having integrity in what you do.”

Rice has played a major role in crafting sections of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and in establishing the Office of Fair Lending within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. —D.K.

Joan Hoover

CONIFER REALTY


Joan Hoover, executive vice president of Conifer Realty

Joan Hoover will soon step into a new leading role at one of the nation’s top affordable housing companies this year.

In July, she will become president of Conifer Realty after served as executive vice president and leading the development and finance efforts at the Rochester, N.Y.–based firm, which owns more than 13,000 affordable units.

“Our shared vision at Conifer is to continue to produce and maintain high-quality affordable housing that is responsive to the needs of our residents and communities and supports the priorities of our state, federal, and local partners in government,” Hoover says. “We value and enjoy being part of the solution to the undersupply of affordable housing.”

Internally, Conifer is at a pivotal growth point and will be focusing on developing its next generation of leaders, many of whom Hoover has recruited and guided, and decentralizing its decision-making process, she says.

Hoover’s work in affordable housing has included serving as deputy commissioner for community development at the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal from 2003 to 2006, a key point in her career.

“Coming from a financial and development background, leading relatively small teams, that perspective exposed me to leading a large, geographically dispersed team of subject-matter experts who are mission-driven,” she says. “I also developed a greater understanding of the importance of community development in the role of creating and preserving affordable housing.”

She cites several traits that have helped her during her career, especially early on—determination, persistence, and curiosity. “Curiosity is still right up there at the top,” she says.

Her advice for others is “Get to know yourself, what drives you and why, where you come from, and your ‘imprinting.’ Enjoy living outside your comfort zone. When you feel like avoiding something, move toward it instead.”

Hoover is active with the New York State Association for Affordable Housing and is secretary on the executive board of the National Housing and Rehabilitation Association. She also serves on the board of PathStone, which supports efforts to promote justice and defeat poverty and racism in many ways, including developing affordable housing. —D.K.

Debby Jenkins

FREDDIE MAC MULTIFAMILY

Debby Jenkins leads Freddie Mac’s mighty multifamily business, which is coming off a record year with $78 billion in overall production in 2018.

The executive vice president is responsible for running the company’s multifamily platform while also thinking about what’s coming up in next, including how to bring more capital into the affordable and workforce housing sector.

“Every single thing we do, on a daily basis, is aimed at furthering workforce housing, that missing middle,” she says. “What can we do to impact the supply? What can we do, from a lender and provider of capital standpoint, to make the building, renovation, and preservation of affordable housing work for the long term? I would say it’s in our DNA at this point.”

Jenkins stepped into her prominent post in November after previously leading the company’s multifamily underwriting and credit-approval process and asset-level securitization activities. At Freddie Mac for the past 10 years, she’s especially proud of being part of the team that launched the company’s flagship K-Deals program and converted the multifamily business from a portfolio lending platform to a securitization platform. This moved the vast majority of risk away from the company and taxpayers to private investors.

Teamwork is familiar to Jenkins, who grew up in a blue-collar community north of Detroit, where she was a three-sport athlete in high school. A softball scholarship paved the way for her to attend Wayne State University.

“Sports had a huge influence on my life,” says the former first baseman. “It was a discipline around what I was doing after school. It taught me the influence of a team. Being that I’m very competitive, it helped fuel those competitive juices. Sports also teaches you how to lose at a young age. It had a great influence on my overall trajectory, going to college and my career.”

As Jenkins takes on her new role, it’s a good time to reflect on her path and the lessons she’s learned.

When talking with the company’s college hires, she often tells them, “Don’t burn a bridge. Look around the room because there’s a high likelihood that among the 50 or 60 people sitting here, someone at some point in time will have some influence on a decision that can affect your career in a positive or negative way. Build relationships, foster them, and continue them.” —D.K.

Muriel Bowser

WASHINGTON, D.C. MAYOR

The growing affordability crisis is demanding the attention of elected officials across the country. According to the 2017 Menino Survey of Mayors, mayors in cities large and small listed housing affordability and availability as one of their top concerns.

And one such official leading the charge for affordable housing for her city’s residents is Washington, D.C., mayor Muriel Bowser, who was first sworn in on Jan. 2, 2015.

Since coming into office, her administration has used multiple tools to develop 6,000 units of affordable housing with an additional 5,200 under construction. In October, the Bowser administration celebrated a record annual investment in affordable housing. Her administration committed $167.7 million from the Housing Production Trust Fund in fiscal 2018 to developments that will create or preserve affordable housing, making it three straight years that Bowser exceeded her annual commitment of $100 million. And in the fiscal 2019 budget, the mayor invested more than $1 billion toward making Washington, D.C., more affordable for residents in all eight wards.

Bowser also is the first woman ever re-elected as the mayor of Washington, D.C. Sworn into her second term on Jan. 2, she pledged her continued commitment to affordable housing during her inaugural speech.

“A fair shot to live and thrive in D.C. also means that we are big in our thinking about creating and preserving more affordable housing. In four years, we built or preserved more than 6,000 units of affordable housing. By 2025, we will need to produce 36,000 total units of housing in D.C. alone and 240,000 units across our region,” she said. “To get there, we must be bold.

“We can no longer resist a close look at building taller and more densely where it makes sense. To do otherwise would be to ignore our growing affordable housing shortage. I will challenge every ward and every neighborhood to think about how you can add more housing and create targets for all of us to shoot for. I will challenge our policymakers to craft programs to produce deeply affordable housing for our most vulnerable families and individuals. We also will invest in more workforce housing for teachers, social workers, policy officers, and firefighters.”

Bowser also is focused on ending homelessness, participating in the annual Point in Time count in January. “We prevented more than 6,000 people from becoming homeless,” she said during her inaugural speech. She also kept her promise to shutter the DC General Family Shelter and replace it with smaller, more dignified programs.

Prior to her time as mayor, Bowser served as Ward 4 councilmember—elected in a special election in 2007 and then re-elected in 2008 and 2012. She served as the chairwoman of the Committee on Economic Development, which created over 5,000 units of affordable housing. —C.S.

Deborah De Santis

CORPORATION FOR SUPPORTIVE HOUSING

Deb De Santis champions supportive housing across the country.

She’s CEO and president of CSH (Corporation for Supportive Housing), which helps finance housing developments, advocates for programs and policies that help the most vulnerable receive housing and coordinated services, and develops new models to make supportive housing work better.

The organization just rolled out a new strategic plan. As part of that process, CSH is raising the importance of working across multiple, integrated systems.

“This builds upon the work we’ve done, recognizing that we can’t address the needs of vulnerable people by only focusing on the homeless systems or just the mental health systems,” she says. “We need to work across systems, including child welfare, criminal justice, hospitals, and health care.”

CSH’s work comes at a time when the number of people experiencing homelessness inched up to approximately 553,000 people last year, and there’s mounting evidence that supportive housing is an effective solution.

De Santis became involved in housing and economic development issues as deputy chief of staff for former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. With a strong interest in affordable housing, De Santis went on to become COO and then executive director of the New Jersey Housing & Mortgage Finance Agency.

Before assuming the top post at CSH in 2007, De Santis led the organization’s program in New Jersey.

She recalls sitting next to a resident of a supportive housing development, who told her that as a child he had to take care of his siblings because his mother was a drug addict. He later lived in different foster-care settings, experienced substance abuse, and became homeless.

It was a clarifying moment, she says, explaining that it helped her think about prevention and the relationship between different social-service networks.

Outside of work, De Santis serves as a trustee at her alma mater, Babson College, in Massachusetts. —D.K.