New Developments: Bending Toward Justice

4 min read

“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”  – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

America has a long and complicated legacy of discrimination and racism, dating back more than 400 years to when the colonists of Jamestown brought slavery to our shores, through the Jim Crow era to today. Remember the “Unite the Right Rally” in August of 2017 where white supremacist groups went “mainstream” and marched on Charlottesville, VA, with torches and swastikas and where a participant ploughed his car into a crowd killing a counter-protester? By the end of that weekend, three people were dead and dozens were injured. I thought at the time “this is not the America I know” and that surely it was the wake-up call that our country needed to once-and-for-all stand up against hate and racism and maybe, finally, do something meaningful about it. As we have all come to learn, this was not the nadir but rather a prelude, and apparently there was still a long way down to go.

Fast forward four years, and the country has been laid bare by escalating identity politics. The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor—and countless others—have horrified tens of millions across the country and around the world. There has been a global pandemic that has disproportionally affected communities of color. If there is any silver lining to the current state of affairs, it is that a global movement has coalesced around taking affirmative and intentional action to undo historic harms and try to build a better world.

Like many of you, over the past year, I have been taking stock and reflecting on how I can personally take more responsibility and promote positive change. Reading Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist was empowering and gave me new tools and framing. Books like The Color of Law, Race for Profit and The Sum of Us have deepened my understanding of the history of discrimination in housing policy and the housing economy and have highlighted why our industry has a special obligation to take additional proactive action.

This is a big task and will require collective, sustained action. It is incredibly gratifying to know that the NH&RA community, including our Executive Committee, Board of Directors and membership, have answered the call to action and formally embraced the principles of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) as part of our mission. This includes the formation of a Steering Committee to guide our future activities and the adoption of a formal mission statement that clearly states and contextualizes our DEI goals as an association (see for more details). Our association’s efforts will be built on three core strategies:

  1. Facilitate more diverse participation in NH&RA across all association activities, including executive leadership, board of directors, general membership, event participants, speakers, publications, staff, etc.;
  2. Promote public policy and practices that remedy injustices and promote the development of diverse, inclusive and equitable communities; and
  3. Assist NH&RA members in their internal efforts and initiatives to be diverse and inclusive employers.

Over the course of the next several months, you will hear a lot more from NH&RA on the strategies and tactics we will be implementing to achieve our DEI goals. We are excited to create new partnerships, to identify, promote and share resources and more best practices, and to measure the success of our efforts. We also will call on you and your organizations to join us in our initiatives and to help us identify how we can facilitate your own organization’s DEI goals. We believe that it is not just the right thing to do, but also good business.

Intentional action is required if we are really truly going to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice. These actions are not just the moral thing to do but also good investments in our organizations and the outcomes we are trying to achieve as community development professionals. I hope you will join us in this effort, share your ideas and help hold us and our organizations accountable to our ambitions.

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.