Learning to Lead

4 min read

NH&RA Prepares the Next Generation of industry leadership

What’s the number one issue on the minds of affordable housing’s top executives? According to David Smith, it is finding the right people to fill their shoes. Smith described himself as “maybe one of ten people left who can remember where Section 8 and 236 came from.” He sees his contemporaries worry that today’s rising generation of leaders is not as qualified as the older generation. But Smith, founder of Recap Real Estate Advisors and the Affordable Housing Institute, is not concerned.

“They were not more qualified when they started,” Smith said of the founding fathers of the housing tax credit industry. “They just started in a more chaotic environment.”

While today’s affordable housing programs may be more stable than those in the 1980s, the industry is not without challenges. When Smith addressed a gathering of the National Housing & Rehabilitation Association’s Next Generation Leaders on November 3, he began his presentation with an overview of the 11 most urgent housing issues. He outlined these unsolved problems as follows:

1. Workforce housing, which fills the gap between the highest Low-Income Housing Tax Credit rents and lowest market rate rents.
2. Elderly retrofits, to support seniors’ health and allow them to age in place.
3. Employer-assisted housing, for employees who will not take a job if they cannot get to it.
4. “Off-campus” dorms to avoid spillover from college campuses.
5. Veterans’ recovery campus housing, where veterans are supported emotionally.
6. Permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless.
7. Housing for the formerly incarcerated to provide housing solutions or 7 million people who are in prison, on probation or on parole.
8. Housing for those aging out of foster care and who may not be ready to live independently.
9. Orphan properties, which are aging and underutilized.
10. Operator-owned mobile home parks, which is a very common form of affordable housing.
11. Entrepreneurial dormitories, which would function as modern-day boarding houses.

“The 1986 tax credit came out of a sense that we needed a housing solution when there was none,” said Smith. “The people who turn these [11 affordable housing] problems into programs will be our next generation of leaders.”

The prospect of building a new program to tackle a complex issue that has dogged our society for decades is no doubt as intimidating as it is exciting. Smith counseled the mid-career professionals on how to pursue personal and professional development, as well as build successful organizations, that will help them in this pursuit.

Smith encouraged the audience, which included developers, tax credit syndicators and investors, attorneys, and other housing professionals, to avoid feeling confined by the job titles. He encouraged them to go above and beyond what is expected of them, quipping, “nobody ever gets fired for doing too much work.”

Smith encouraged the group to approach this work thoughtfully and carefully.

“Take a problem that needs doing, but not to the neglect of other things.”

His guidance followed the same tenants as the advice many parents give. He reminded the group to use etiquette, specifically when writing e-mails. He encouraged them to tell the truth by promising only what they know they can deliver on. While Smith did not explicitly say you have two ears and one mouth for a reason, it was certainly implied. He encouraged the audience to learn everything, and develop strong views and opinions, but only speak on issues on which they are an expert.

Smith’s sage presentation opened an opportunity for rising leaders to see their day-to-day work, their arch of their career, and the industry they work in holistically. With mentorship from affordable housing veterans, like Smith, and a strong commitment to continue to serve residents and improve the industry, the next generation of leaders seems poised to continue to build an industry they, and those who came before them, can be proud of.

NH&RA will continue to convene the Next Generation Leadership Initiative to support this effort. The next event will be a networking event on Friday, February 26 at NH&RA’s 2016 Annual Meeting. If you are interested in learning more about NH&RA’s Next Generation Leadership Intitiative, please e-mail info@housingonline.com.

Thom joined National Housing & Rehabilitation Association (NH&RA) in 2004 and currently serves as its as Executive Vice-President and Executive Director. NH&RA is a national trade association and peer-network for affordable housing and tax credit developers and related professionals including: investors, lenders, public agencies and professional advisers. Thom directs the association’s day-to-day operations including legislative and regulatory advocacy, committee activities, conferences and events, publications, financial management and strategic planning. Thom also serves as the Executive Director of the Tennessee Developers Council, a state-wide trade association for affordable housing developers and professionals active in Tennessee. In 2013 he spearheaded the launch of NH&RA's Preservation through Energy Efficiency Project, a major educational initiative supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Thom also serves on the Board of Directors for International Center for Appropriate & Sustainable Technology (iCAST) as well as the Advisory Board for its ResourceSmart program, a turn-key, cost-effective, green rehab provider for multifamily affordable and market-rate housing communities and nonprofit facilities. Thom is a frequent speaker at affordable housing, sustainable development and tax credit industry events and has been published in a variety of industry journals including Tax Credit Advisor, Independent Banker, and the Novogradac Journal of Tax Credit Housing. Thom also serves as the Associate Publisher of Tax Credit Advisor, a monthly magazine for tax credit and affordable housing professionals and is an Executive Vice-President at Dworbell Inc., a boutique association management and communications firm in Washington, DC. Thom was previously employed at a national lobbying firm focusing on financial services and technology issues. Prior to moving to Washington, Thom worked in media relations in the New York State Assembly and as a research assistant for New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen. Thom graduated Magna Cum Laude from Tufts University with a double major in Political Science and History.