New Developments: Celebrating 50 Years of Meeting Challenges by Scaling Our Success

4 min read

I am the father of three young children, so birthdays still play an outsized role in our household. In the under ten set, all the action is around what kind of party you are having and between our household and the kids’ friends, we have been to just about every kind of birthday party venue you can imagine, including climbing, gymnastic and trampoline gyms, dinosaur digs, Medieval Times, state parks, country clubs, bowling alleys, laser tag courses, rope courses, petting zoos and on and on. I’ve been to so many performances of the Great Zucchini (look him up – he’s a trip!) I could be his understudy. Yes, I do know my way around a good child’s birthday party.

As you age, the glamour of birthday parties tends to wear off and we tend to focus more on those milestone birthdays and anniversaries. They are the moments when we get together to see old friends, remember the halcyon days of the past and think about the future ahead. This year, the National Housing & Rehabilitation Association is celebrating a major milestone at our annual meeting and throughout the year – 50 years of bringing together affordable housing developers and practitioners for our unique brand of collaboration.

My colleague and mentor Peter Bell, NH&RA CEO, has marked 45 of those 50 years with the association and will be sharing some of his insights into the collective and collaborative spirit that has driven NH&RA’s successes over the years in a separate column in this issue. But having spent the past 16 years of my career with the association, and essentially growing up in the industry, I can tell you this is a really special organization.

The “NH&RA Way” has always been about sharing knowledge and strategies with peers, and even competitors, so that we can grow together. Our conferences are best known for their candid transaction-oriented discussion. We focus on bringing the smartest people together to share cutting-edge, replicable strategies. Our members share their “secret sauce” because affordable housing finance insight is not intellectual property but rather a shared resource that helps grow our collective industries.

Likewise, NH&RA’s subsidiary councils bring like-minded professionals together to build consensus around policy solutions or industry best practices that don’t just help grow our individual businesses but the industry collectively. The range of impactful projects I’ve had the pleasure of being involved in include developing best practices for rental housing market studies, a toolkit for multifamily energy and utility retrofits, policy solutions for the chronic underfunding of public housing and the mixed-finance housing portfolio and a multifamily tax-exempt bond toolkit that has helped grow bond development in a dozen states. In each situation, friendly competitors put their individual business priorities aside to design and advocate for solutions for the overall community of practice.

As we think about the next 50 years, there will be many challenges to face. The real estate industry is characterized by cycles and NH&RA has endured many upswings and downturns over its 50 years. I think we have served our members and the community at large best during times of disruption. It’s no accident that our membership grew more than five percent during the great recession in 2007-2009 and another 15 percent since the start of the pandemic. While it is true that a rising tide lifts all boats, a safe harbor, like NH&RA, is great in fair weather and an essential place to shelter and repair during and after a storm.

While it may be customary to bring a present to a birthday or anniversary party, NH&RA is not looking for gifts, but rather the continued pleasure of your engagement in our association activities and events. Your support and participation are the most important drivers for our collective success. Of course, if you are reading this column and happen to be a member of Congress, the adoption of Build Back Better or the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act would also be a fine present and would help set up our community for delivering even more affordable housing in the next 50 years.

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.