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One for Posterity  

4 min read

I was recently asked to reflect on what moments led me to a career in affordable housing. Like most people in this industry, it wasn’t something I ever knew was a career option. A collection of moments and experiences pointed me here, though at the time it seemed like anything but a straight line.

Mission trips to Appalachia to build homes provided me with a glimpse of the desperation of rural poverty. High school volunteering introduced me to the world of nonprofits – one of my favorites being the aptly named Cradles to Crayons out of Philadelphia, which provides everything from cradles to crayons for children in need. A high school summer internship program with them introduced me to the network of housing providers that served as a distribution pipeline.

During my freshman year of college, I participated in an Alternative Spring Break focused on homelessness and poverty in Baltimore. We slept in the conference room of Baltimore’s Health Care for the Homeless facility and were given $2 to try to feed ourselves for the day. The experience left an indelible imprint on me, crystallizing a principle that has guided much of my career: no one in America should ever have to experience homelessness.

From there, I interned in the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Human Services – Homeless Services Division, and then returned to Health Care for the Homeless for my Social Work field placement during my senior year. Grad school took me back home to Philadelphia where I did my field placement at Project HOME – one of the housing providers that I toured all those years ago with Cradles to Crayons.

I keenly remember a friend telling her mom that I was getting my graduate degree in homelessness. While incorrect, it wasn’t that far off. My field placement and macro concentration in Penn’s Social Work program were both centered on homelessness policy. I got to put policy into action while working on the special initiatives team implementing a public-private partnership to end chronic street homelessness in Philadelphia.

After grad school, I moved to Washington, DC for a fellowship with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, working on their policy and research teams. At this point, I knew a lot about the social safety net, VI-SPDATs and permanent supportive housing, but not much about affordable housing. A policy and research role at the National Housing Conference was a crash course in the larger housing world. They work on everything from homelessness to homeownership and I was introduced to housing finance – both the role of the government sponsored enterprises, as well as capital stacks.

I honed in on multifamily, affordable housing knowing this was the type of housing that would best serve the homeless populations I first worked with. That specialization ultimately landed me here, at National Housing & Rehabilitation Association. I feel so privileged to be able to combine my passion and talents into work on policy that results in housing more people.

This reflection on my early days in affordable housing coupled with the recent oral arguments in a landmark case on homelessness before the Supreme Court has made everything feel a bit full circle of late. (See Legally Speaking) Criminalizing homelessness will not solve it. Only housing can do that. The need for our work has never been more urgent, and we have a chance to marshal the political attention on housing unaffordability into more resources.

I am humbled by the work of our members and grateful to be surrounded by equally passionate people figuring out complex financial structures that get the deals done and owners committed to preserving properties as affordable and providing resident services. I’ll be stepping back for a few months to welcome my daughter. I know that the world she grows up in will be a better place because of the work we all do. Please keep going.

Kaitlyn Snyder is managing director of National Housing & Rehabilitation Association.