On Thursday February 25, the College of Law’s Center for the Comparative Study of Metropolitan Growth and the University’s Career Services Center sponsored, “Have You Considered a Career in Affordable Housing & Community Development?” The program’s goal was to prepare attendees, which included undergraduate, graduate and law students, how best to seek roles and be on the frontlines in tackling the current housing crisis.
The virtual ‘brown-bag’ discussion featured Sandra Henriquez, the Chief Executive Officer of the Detroit Housing Commission and former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama. As a national affordable housing executive and leader, Henriquez discussed the skills and personal qualities that public and private sector housing organizations value in members of their teams and how attendees can make a difference in housing and community development. Here are some of the top takeaways from the event.
A career in affordable housing is more imperative than ever
According to Georgia State Law professor John Marshall who helped organize the event, the nation has suffered from a severe affordable housing shortage for many years. Added with the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation is on the precipice of a housing crisis. It has never been more important to have smart, caring, patient, and persistent minds think of ways to help sustain existing housing opportunities and create a wider range of safe and affordable housing options for all.
Many housing challenges have remained the same for years
Sandra Henriquez says the success in creating or revitalizing affordable housing has always depended on the allocation of resources available at the time. Demand always outweighs supply, and she says affordable housing can’t get built fast enough or have sufficient number of units to meet the demand. As the resources continue to dwindle, lots of different sources need to come together in order to make a deal viable. Along with permitting issues, zoning and the sheer cost of construction, the most important thing is taking into account what the community itself needs.
“You’ve got a lot of challenges you need to balance and integrate in order to be successful, and best way to do that is to listen to the community you’re working for,” Henriquez said.
There are several necessary skills needed for a successful career
Beyond having an applicable academic background, Henriquez went into several skills that are necessary to be successful in affordable housing and community development. Remaining open-minded and non-judgmental, listening carefully to all parties, being able to effectively share knowledge with residents and having patience are some of the top skills needed. She also said it’s important to be okay with the very little instant gratification that comes from the job.
“The gratification in these types of jobs coming from knowing you’ve done something bigger than yourself,” Henriquez said.
The Bottom Line
While Henriquez says the immediate gratification is limited, if you commit to a career in housing and see projects through, it will be very fulfilling. Overall, her takeaway is that affordable housing, particularly in revitalized, existing communities has to be resident-centered and resident-focused. She emphasizes the importance of reintegrating the property into the larger community, bringing services in and reknitting the lives of the residents into the community for which the housing development is located.
Written by Mara Thompson