Key Career Pivots


Hunter College, 1999

Problem: How did the "Hood" happen and are things better now?

Solution: Undergraduate theory: Real Urban Revitalization means addressing vacancy through community organizing and finance tools:  Historic Preservation, Commercial Corridor Restoration, Assessment Districts, creative Home Ownership, tax credit financing, Tax Increment Financing Community Development Finance Tools, Community Organizing

Realization: People working in government often are not from urban neighborhoods, nor do they ride public transportation so they don’t know what to preserve and what to improve. In order to make an impact I need to prove that social infrastructure is a "must have" in creating a lively urban society not just "nice to have". I need to work for a city government.

Pivot: Grant Writer, Lewiston Maine

Lewiston, Maine, 2000

Problem: Vacant building stock. With suburbanism in high swing, existing residence didn't see the value of urban building stock and in fact saw the space as a symbol of poverty. City officials were out of ideas and the buildings started to fall into disrepair.

Solution: Refugees in Portland, Maine needed a place to live. Along with federal funding grants for building renovation, I pulled in local Community District Financial Institutions (CDFIs) to create an infrastructure of success for the new population. Services included job training and placement, ESL, childcare, etc.

Realization: City Governments are just grant makers, they don’t provide real direct services and they are rarely innovative in solving urban problems. City of Lewiston, Maine, was neglecting the building stock and demolishing very valuable housing stock. In order for me to make a deeper impact, I need to further my education, expand my network and find new models for urban revitalization.

Pivot: Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

MIT, 2002

Problem:  How did some neighborhoods in the center city survive Urban Renewal and other forms of government interventions destroy the urban fabric? 

Solution: Residents, small business owners, and nonprofits in most neighborhoods don’t understand the great forces at play.  The sources of funds dictate how they are spent. Urban Renewal happened when federal funds imposed a values system on the urban fabric: Cars over people. The Urban Fabric survives when communities go from community organizing and advocacy to ownership.  

Realization: Disenfranchised communities and nonprofits have little resources and traditional financial tools are at the very least biased and at worst, predatory in nature. Financial knowledge and policy, specifically in liberal areas open to public discourse and innovation, among all stakeholders is imperative to ethical and impactful urban planning.  

Pivot: Community Development Financial Institutions have economic development programs that work from within and stabilize neighborhoods: neighborhood assessment districts, technical assistance programs, land trusts, and commercial corridor revitalization strategies. Implementation was my next move. I wanted to work within a progressive city with values of renewal aligned with my own: San Francisco, California.

Local INITIATIVE Support Corporation, 2003

Problem: Implementing Community Benefits Districts and San Bruno Facade Redevelopment Programs to allow neighborhoods manage a budget for neighborhood revitalization outside of City Hall. 

Solution:  Implementing Community Benefits Districts and San Bruno Facade Redevelopment Programs to allow neighborhoods to manage a budget for neighborhood revitalization outside of City Hall. 

Realization: San Francisco commercial real estate was entrenched in bias and exclusivity, with capital concentrated at the top, despite liberal and progressive social ideals.  Justin Herman, Executive Director of San Francisco Redevelopment Agency from 1960-1971 expressed the attitude existent in these circles when he said infamously, in reference to the large tenant building neighborhoods of the South of Market, “This land is too valuable to permit poor people to park on it.” In San Francisco, between 1970 and 2000, almost 9,000 low-rent apartments were demolished or converted. Between 1980 and 2000, another 6,470 were converted to condominiums. S.R.O. neighborhoods were targeted for elimination because their populations did not fit into the long-term plans of the economic-political elite. 

Yet, the measures taken in the early 2000s to combat expedited demolition and eviction had unintended consequences: cost prohibitive building regulations and non-equitable financial opportunities for community stakeholders. Buildings sat in disrepair as the landlords, mostly private corporations, made financial decisions against "renewal" based on cost, while tenant's hands were tied because they didn't fit the profile of home owner defined by traditional banking institutions. 

Pivot: In order for low-middle class families to stay in San Francisco they need to join forces, pool recources, and gain capital as a group. Founding Board Member of the San Francisco Land Trust.

San francisco community land trust, 2007

Problem: Current affordable housing funds are used to purchase big buildings by nonprofit affordable housing organizations or as a tool to negotiate with developers. Despite San Francisco's strong tenants rights and rent control, the high cost real estate market has left many small and mid-size rental buildings vulnerable to evictions when landlords decide they don't want to be landlords anymore.

Solution: On their own, residents do not have much negotiation power, but when organized and with the support of the Land Trust, they can negotiate the acquisition of the building before it is sold on the open market. SFCLT began working with the Asian Law Caucus and the tenants at 53 Columbus Avenue, to do a coop conversion of their building. The tenants had been engaged in a seven-year fight against the demolition of their homes. In December, 2005, an agreement was reached with the Community College District to sell their building to enable SFCLT to convert it into a limited equity housing cooperative for the existing tenants. 53 Columbus Avenue was the first 22-unit building to allow for home ownership in San Francisco.

Realization: The $8 million dollar project at 53 Columbus included all new services, seismic upgrades, an elevator to the building, and a tenant for the ground floor unit. Vacancy in commercial real estate is being ignored and there is room for innovation within the CDFI, economic development. Nonprofits operating in commercial real estate can solve the commercial ground floor real estate vacancy problem in San Francisco and other commercial corridors.  This is a problem no one is working on and there is room for innovation. In order to understand how to fill the ground floor real estate vacancy problem, I need to know how to build in San Francisco.

Pivot: Swinerton Builders, Tenant Improvement Division to learn how to build in commercial real estate.

Northern california community loan Fund, 2014

Problem: The Central Market district of San Francisco served as a regional center for arts, entertainment and retail. During the past several decades, the district struggled with high vacancy rates, a lack of private investment, physical blight and a myriad of social challenges. In order to create a cohesive effort and ensure that all of the ongoing efforts work towards a common goal and capitalize on opportunities, in 2010 the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development launched a community-oriented planning process to enable neighborhood residents and other stakeholders to work collaboratively to prioritize activities, programs, and policies that will strengthen and transform the district. But filling vacancy was slow and supervisor approval was even slower. Redevelopment "plans" were changed to "strategies" with the creation Commercial Corridor Revitalization Arts and Economic Development, Central Market Economic Strategy. 

Solution: Northern California Community Loan Fund was invited to fill create a multi-sector approach to filling vacancy in the areas of cultural nonprofits, small business, entertainment, and technology. As Senior Real Estate Consultant at NCCLF, my role was to retain and attract arts organizations within the district.  I designed the Central Market Real Estate Readiness Program to help nonprofit organizations get ready for a real estate transaction within their management structure. Once the nonprofits were ready, we helped them secure spaces through leasing and acquisition.

Realization: Nonprofits need real estate development companies to acquire, develop, manage and provide equity sharing mechanisms. But, the private sector does not know how to deploy vacancy controls in commercial real estate and the companies have little room for innovation or inclination to help. In addition, neighborhoods block development because they are not included in the process. In general, real estate development companies are financiers, not urban planners.  

Pivot: Common Ground Urban Development, in partnership with Thurston Kasflosky, a former San Francisco Redevelopment Employee

Common ground urban development 2016

Problem: Deploying opportunities for nonprofit ownership without a third-party nonprofit real estate management company during development. 

Solution: Government money is slow and private equity is fast. Private equity requires an exit, and our model provides easy exits, but so few equity investment companies know how to deploy in partnership with existing residents and government for the take outsource of the private equity. 

Realization:  The masculine world of private equity and commercial real estate leave little room for innovation.  Proforma real estate developers don't know how to deploy vacancy controls and complicated goverment financing mechanisms. 

Pivot:  Loeb Fellowship Application at Harvard Graduate School of Design.