Public Service Spotlight
Program Manager at Restored Homes HDFC
How do you choose to be involved with Wagner now, as an alumna?
The most exciting way I have been involved as an alumna is being the project lead for a Capstone project this past year. My organization along with the Center for NYC Neighborhoods asked the students to conduct a neighborhood needs assessment in Jamaica, Queens to identify issues related to foreclosure not currently being addressed and to come up with innovative solutions and alternative interventions to the issues identified. I was able to take the students into the field and show them some of our work and how the project could complement the organization's ongoing work. The group of students that chose our project seem really talented and thoughtful, so I am excited to see their research fully actualized. I have also sat in on a housing career panel and gone to the occasional alumni happy hour. I wish I could be more involved, but life finds a way of getting in the way of good intentions.
What are the connections between your Wagner experience and your current work?
I would not be in my current position if I had not attended Wagner. Additionally, it is an asset being the only Planner in my office. Thanks to what I learned in my classes and coursework, I have the tools to research and troubleshoot problems that arise, such as zoning issues. I also had the opportunity to attend many different events while at Wagner, through student admissions or invitations by professors. Though networking can certainly get tedious, I met many of my future colleagues and board members at these events.
How did you end up where you are?
Upon graduating from The University of Vermont in 2004 with a BA in Environmental Studies, I moved to New York City. I worked any job to pay the bills--from valeting at Mercedes Benz to waitressing, before landing a job as an administrative assistant at a high profile hedge fund. After more than two years at that position, I knew there was little opportunity for growth and, more importantly, that my career interests had always been more civic-minded. I had been volunteering as part of the "Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn" grassroots efforts against Atlantic Yards in my neighborhood for some time and realized that there was a way to make helping communities a career. I began to research schools and programs and decided Urban Planning was the perfect fit for my interests. Ultimately, I was accepted at Wagner and throughout my first year, I worked at the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy as a Research Assistant. During the summer after my first year, I sought out a full time internship and began working at Restored Homes. I was fortunate to be offered a full time permanent position upon graduation.
What do you do in your current role?
I am the Program Manager at Restored Homes HDFC, a small non-profit affordable housing developer that administers several programs for the City of New York’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. When I began working at Restored Homes in 2008, my primary role was to create, implement and run the REO Program. The REO Program uses federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds to purchase vacant foreclosed homes, rehabilitate and resell them to qualified home-buyers. Due to the small staff at my organization and the “do more with less” non-profit mentality, I also have the opportunity to be a paralegal, grant writer and construction project manager on a day-to-day basis.
What do you enjoy about your job?
One of the greatest things about my job is that I get to see the direct impact of my work. I can purchase a home that is blighting a block by sitting vacant and unkempt and transform it into a neighborhood asset. More than that, we get to help a family purchase a safe, healthy home that they otherwise may have not been able to afford.
What are some challenges that your organization faces? How do you overcome them?
My greatest personal challenge at work tends to be patience with bureaucracy. Inefficiencies in systems and the answer “it’s always been that way” infuriate me. Working for a private non-profit, which is at the same time pseudo-governmental, makes this a daily challenge for me that I am not quite sure I will ever be comfortable with, but I try! I also try to set out clear expectations in terms of feedback and deadlines at the onset of a program whenever possible to avoid unnecessarily long approval times.
As an organization, I think we face many of the same challenges as everyone else in this economic climate, mainly shortages of funding. We rely on government support and grants for the bulk of our operating costs until we sell our homes to collect fees. Thankfully, we have been successful in our programs and have been able to sell homes. However, it takes much longer than it used to, so we must continue applying for grants and seeking out new initiatives.
What are your future career goals?
I do not have one distinct career trajectory in mind, but when I think about the future at this point in time, I think I would like to work for a larger developer and/or run my own community development organization. I think it would be so exciting to get the opportunity to be a part of larger scale planning and see all the ins-and-outs of building a skyscraper or transforming a large public space. My current organization is city-wide, so I also think it would be nice to micro-focus in one neighborhood and interact with constituents to make a difference.
How did you decide to attend Wagner?
Of the schools I was choosing from, Wagner seemed to be the most professionally oriented. I was of course looking for an academic experience, however my main goal from graduate school was to get a job and start a career. I thought that Wagner did a good job of portraying that in the midst of all an NYU education and the West Village have to offer, the focus is producing producers, people who care enough to take action.
Do you have any thoughts to share with Wagner alumni/ students?
As I mentioned before, networking can be tedious but it is incredibly important. The affordable housing world in New York City is extensive, but also a tight-knit community, so it pays to introduce yourself and be persistent. Many of the interns and staff members hired in our office are a referral from someone in housing, community development, banking, etc… saying “this person worked for me and was fabulous” or “I had this person in a class and I recommend them highly.”