Pam Goodman

7 min read

Beacon’s beacon

“I grew up in Detroit in the 1950s and early 1960s, and it had a tremendous effect on me. I saw stable neighborhoods fall apart overnight. Growing up in the city was a very powerful influence.”

That influence led Pamela “Pam” Goodman toward a career in, and profound dedication to, affordable housing and community development. She is chief executive officer of Beacon Communities in Boston, one of the nation’s leading affordable development and management companies, and the 2017 honoree for the Affordable Housing Vision Award for the Private Sector.

With a focus on the long-term, Beacon currently manages nearly 12,000 apartment units in more than 60 developments spread across New England, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and Virginia. The facilities range in size from 44 units to almost 1,000. Its acquisitions and investments team focuses on preserving and renewing affordable housing through strong relationships with tax credit investors, including collaborative participation of State, Federal, Historic and Low Income Housing Tax Credit investors and purchasers; equity investors; lenders; and existing owners. Pam’s upbringing, education and professional experience combined to prepare her to lead such an organization.

“I went to a public high school that went from overwhelmingly Jewish to overwhelmingly African American in a very short time,” she says. “Then came the 1967 riots. I remember sitting around the dinner table and neighbors telling my parents that other neighbors just sold their house for, like, $20,000, and if we don’t sell immediately, ours will be worth nothing soon. That kind of thinking got me very interested in cities and the forces that make them what they are.”

She went to the University of Michigan where, at the time, there was no formal urban studies major, “so I created my own program.” She went on for her MA in urban planning at Michigan.

“Through my exposure at the university, I got hooked up with the Ann Arbor Housing Commission and managed public housing, which I found fascinating. By that point, I was really interested in housing, but not 20-story high-rises or big homes in the suburbs. In my heart, I really believe that housing is the platform for change.”

In this, Pam echoes the views of many social workers and other advocates, who believe that it is very difficult to improve the lives of low-income people or those in social distress without a stable home situation.

“Some time back, we were having our kitchen done, and that threw our whole lives into chaos. So imagine what it is like for someone who is trying to get his or her life in order, secure a steady job and take care of their kids if they don’t have a home.”

This sensitivity points directly to Pam’s professional emphasis. “I tend to focus on the development side rather than financial structure. I’m not a deal junkie. I’m more interested in the community component: How we can move the needle and what does the community want? I want to understand how decisions get made in each community.”

That said, during Pam’s tenure at Beacon, the company has almost doubled its portfolio of residential units and her active engagement has enabled Beacon to successfully permit, design, close, construct and lease numerous complex developments. In her current role, she oversees the performance of the entire organization and its holdings.

Prior to joining Beacon, Pam served as project manager for a number of development companies, then came on as a senior real estate professional at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, a full-service law firm with offices in seven American cities, plus London.

“I like creating things, and creating good housing is the most rewarding work,” she says. “I love interacting with the people who live in that housing.”

That is not always easy. But of all the skills Pam has developed over the course of her career, she considers listening one of the most important. “I’ll get a [highly emotional] call from a resident in one of our affordable housing communities complaining about something. If I can peel back the hysteria, often there’s a grain of truth in what they’re saying and I’ll be able to figure it out and solve the problem.”

Effective listening proves equally critical in dealing with communities. “What I’ve found really fascinating,” she comments, “is trying to figure out what does it take to create a sense of trust across a broad group of people. I don’t have all the answers, but being a good listener is the start, whether you’re talking to state agency officials, municipal or community leaders, residents or other stakeholders. I try to put myself in their position. You have to maintain your credibility, and that means always being honest, saying what you are prepared to do and not overpromising.” The Beacon track record shows how successful this approach has been.

She is equally concerned with her own colleagues. “I’m always asking myself, ‘How do you create a work environment where people are committed and want to go that extra mile?’”

Jeff Baker, president of Beacon Residential Management, says, “I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from Pam Goodman over the past 16 years. Pam is a collaborative leader and great communicator. She is transparent and has captured the trust and loyalty of everyone in the organization. Pam’s leadership style has fostered a culture of innovation and productivity. Pam is genuinely interested in team member participation and welfare. As a result of her strong leadership and coaching skills, Pam has captured the engagement and discretionary effort of our team members which has resulted in outstanding business results and a best place to work environment.”

Joshua Cohen, Beacon’s vice president for development, declares, “Pam has this intense focus on communication. Are people speaking honestly and openly with each other, and are they listening to each other?  Whether she’s troubleshooting a situation on a construction job, identifying issues at a property, talking to residents or striving to make Beacon an even better workplace, she is always asking the same fundamental question: Are people talking to each other?  She’ll say, ‘Don’t let things fester’ – her lesson is that frustration is a drag on the process, that if we’re wasting energy containing negative feelings, we’ll never be able to do great work and have a great workplace.”

Pam’s diverse social service interests are well represented by her outside activities. She is on the board of the housing committee of Hebrew Senior Life, a nonprofit housing and healthcare provider and research center that is the Harvard Medical School affiliate for gerontology. She is on the board of MAB Community services, one of the oldest organizations in the nation working to create opportunities for people with disabilities.

For 15 years, Pam served as an elected official on the board of the Brookline Housing Authority. She is a former member of B’nai B’rith Housing New England, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies Disabilities Housing Implementation Advisory Committee and The Arc of Greater Boston. She is also active in organizations working to create employment opportunities for adults with cognitive disabilities.

This cause is close to Pam’s heart. She is married to Dr. Michael Shwartz, the Richard D. Cohen Professor of Management at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, where he teaches, researches and writes on health policy. He also conducts health services research for the Boston Veterans Administration. Their 29-year-old son Sam is intellectually disabled and lives within a community-based program in New Haven, CT. He works part-time for one of Beacon’s senior communities there, “running bingo, serving meals and socializing with elders. He loves working with seniors.”

It is a deeply personal subject on which Pam is passionate, but not at all sensitive or guarded. “I have no problem with describing his situation,” she comments. “It is who he is and it is something I deal with every day. In fact, I wouldn’t mind putting in a plug for people to consider hiring people who may be disabled.”

Just one more instance of Pam Goodman’s dedication to making the world around her a better, and more compassionate place.