Can you please briefly tell us about your background?
I am a wife and mother who has lived in Vilano Beach for over 20 years. I am president and CEO of Ability Housing, a nonprofit developer based in Jacksonville. Ability Housing is an industry leader providing housing attainable to working families unable to afford market housing. We strive to end homelessness by targeting apartments to individuals and families that have experienced homelessness and providing best-in-class support services to all residents. This year, I was the 2020 EVE Award winner and designated the 2020 Multifamily Executive of the Year.
What do you enjoy the most about what you do?
I have two great joys with my work. First, I get to work with remarkable people. What we do is rewarding but very hard, working alongside such great people makes my work so much more enjoyable. The second joy in my work is knowing we are creating opportunities for families living in crisis. Not having a stable place to live has extremely negative impacts on all members of a family; and, therefore, our community. Seeing a family move into a home — there is little in the world that is more joyful than that.
What are some of the challenges that your industry is facing?
The greatest challenge to my industry is limited resources. Ability Housing creates the housing the market can’t or won’t — because the rents the households can afford are lower than what the market can provide, or won’t because greater profits can be made with other types of development. Because we are dealing with a market failure — the fact that housing costs have far exceeded increases in income for decades — the usual market forces of supply and demand do not work. The demand for an affordable place to live is far exceeding the resources available to create that housing. Another challenge is opposition from communities to having housing in their neighborhood. There is a stigma about who lives in affordable housing. But, in reality, it is people we interact with every day — teacher aids, nursing assistants, home health providers, day care providers. If it is OK for these people to take care of our children and parents, it should be OK for them to be a neighbor.
Can you tell us a little bit about why the Ability Housing organization means so much to you?
Ability Housing means so much to me because I know the impact we are having on each of our residents as well as our community. We are dedicated to investing in solutions to the challenges plaguing our community. It is when we invest in addressing root causes and systemic solutions that we make real change. Our housing provides improved health and education outcomes, stable employment, economic stability and mobility. All of these things are positive forces for our residents and the community.
What is the most rewarding part about working with the Ability Housing organization?
As you can likely tell from my previous responses, working for Ability Housing is immensely rewarding. Knowing we are meeting one of humanities’ most basic needs — housing — and knowing how important a stable place to live is to achieving any person’s potential, it is tremendously rewarding to create these opportunities. They will have impacts for decades to come.
Where do you see yourself/the organization in the future?
I see Ability Housing continuing to strive to help as many people as possible. We have already expanded to serve Central Florida. I expect we will expand to serve other regions as well. I also see us expanding the housing options we provide. Currently, we rely upon government financing to build the housing. If we are able to secure some “social investment,” we can create more housing while providing investors a return on their investment. The financial return would be below market, but the social return — the investment in the community and its future — would be exponential.
Can you tell us a little bit about the “Executive of the Year” award you recently won?
This year I was honored to be designated the Multifamily Executive of the Year. But, it is really not my award. I get the privilege to be named the awardee; but it is truly an award for the entire Ability Housing team. They are being recognized for the great work Ability Housing has done; creating long-term assets that provide positive financial and social returns to every community in which we build. As a nonprofit, it is especially satisfying to be recognized in this manner. Ability Housing is truly an industry leader and it is nice to know it has been noticed. My staff deserve that recognition for their many, many years of very hard work.
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