My friend Bryan has a very interesting job. I had never heard of an Affordable Housing Developer until I met him and I didn’t really understand what he did until he agreed to be interviewed. Please take the time to really read his suggestions about advice he would give to someone looking into his profession. His response can be applied to any career and life in general…. read on
Q: What is the title of your profession?
A: I am an affordable housing developer.
Q: What do you do?
A: My company buys, renovates and manages large apartment buildings that either have rents that are set to be affordable to people who earn a certain amount of money each year or less or buildings that provide assistance to residents to pay their rent in order to make it affordable. My particular job involves finding properties to purchase, structuring the financing to make the purchase possible, finding financial partners to work with and overseeing a team of project managers who plan the renovations and long-term management of our properties.
Q: Have you always worked in this field?
A: No, however, ever since graduate school I have worked in this field.
Q: If no, what was your prior profession and what made you change your profession?
A: Prior to graduate school I worked at an economic consulting firm in Washington, DC as a Research Associate. There I performed statistical and graphical analysis for economists to use to provide testimony in federal court cases involving allegations of price fixing, monopolization and anti-competitive business practices by Fortune 100 companies. I found this work to be very interesting, challenging and a good application of my background in statistics and economics. However after my sister passed away in 1997, I found myself feeling like I wanted to use my skills and talents in a way that would provide more public benefit and would also involve my interest in improving places (cities, neighborhoods, etc.). I decided to go graduate school to study Urban Planning.
Q: Why did you choose this profession?
A: After my first year in graduate school I found that while I wanted to help people, and I was interested in cities and their design, my style of working was not well suited to the intensely collaborative nature of planning. Typically, urban planners’ work involves seeking wide and varied sets of input from people who will be affected by a given decision and then working with those people to come up with a solution to a certain problem. I found that I was more suited to working in a faster paced environment where I would have more autonomy and ability to define my own solutions to problems. I began taking classes in real estate development and earning a second masters degree in real estate development. After school a small company in Portland was looking to hire a “Development Associate” to help develop a portfolio of affordable housing in the eastern part of the U.S. After a couple of interviews and a trip from Boston to Portland I realized that affordable housing development would provide me with the opportunity to help others while working in an environment that was better suited to me.
Q: How would you define your profession?
A: Affordable housing developers use a mix of private and government funds to provide safe, decent and quality housing to those who otherwise would not be able to afford it.
Q: Did you go to college or a trade school for this profession?
A: I did go to graduate school prior to working in the field, and my work in graduate school definitely helped prepare me for work. Other affordable housing developers have backgrounds in law or have their MBAs. In general, having a general understanding about places, buildings, finance and how to problem solve are the key “learnable” skills that a school can teach somebody in order to be a successful developer.
Q: How long did you go to school? Where? What was your degree in?
A: I went to college for 4 years at the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY. There I earned two bachelor’s degrees: one in statistics and one in economics. Two years after graduation I went to the MIT School of Architecture & Planning in Cambridge, MA and earned two masters degrees: one in urban planning and one in real estate development.
Q: Do you use your degree in your job? In what way?
A: Yes, the financial analysis skills, legal analysis skills, building design skills, negotiating skills and consensus building skills that I learned – particularly in graduate school – all are vital components of my day-to-day work.
Q: Can your degree be used as a basis for any other professions? What types?
A: Absolutely. In general my undergraduate degrees taught me how to think and analyze problems. Developing this lifelong skill during college was invaluable and will serve me well in any profession. The urban planning program gave me an incredible appreciation for how local decision making takes place, the importance of soliciting input in the planning process and how to work with a diverse group of people toward a common goal. My real estate development degree was useful in honing my financial analysis skills and forming an approach to analyzing problems by breaking complex systems down into small components.
Q: Does your job require continued education? What type? How much?
A: It does not, however, by attending professional conferences and reading industry magazines I am able to stay current on what types of deals are getting done, get ideas for future deals, and network with other affordable housing developers throughout the country. These types of events have been the basis for some great work friendships over the years.
Q: Does your job require a certification or board testing?
A: No it doesn’t.
Q: What is a day in the life of your job? Does it change day to day? Do you work with the public?
A: Each day is very different and involves work with government officials, public community members, private investors, professional designers, lawyers and time performing financial analysis. Some work during the day is very independent in nature; some involves close collaboration with team members; and other work is independent but will require help or assistance from other experts who work in the field (like lawyers, accountants, architects or engineers).
Q: What do you think makes a person successful in this profession?
A: I think that a strong work ethic, attention to detail, confidence, the ability to work with a diverse group of people and the ability to understand both the “big picture” and the details of what is required to get a job done lead to success as an affordable housing developer.
Q: Does your profession require travel? How much?
A: Yes, in my role travel is vital in order to visit properties, meet partners and potential sellers, network with colleagues and oversee renovations and management planning. I find that I travel about 2-3 times per month.
Q: What is the typical schedule/hours?
A: My typical schedule is either going in to the office at 8:30 and leaving at 6:00 (then working at night from home) or heading off to the airport at 4am and returning sometime after 10pm the following day. Overall, my role has me working between 50 and 70 hours per week.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: The most rewarding part of the job is seeing the sense of pride I see in our residents’ faces when they first move in to their newly renovated apartments or the relief that many of our residents express knowing that they can raise their children safely in their new homes. Knowing that my work is literally giving hundreds of kids in the most underprivileged parts of America a better chance of escaping poverty when they grow up is an amazing reward for me.
Q: What do you dislike about your job?
A: I don’t like the amount of travel I have to do and the fact that much of the work I do is in other people’s communities. These two things mean that I am away from my family a lot and I’m not able to be as involved in my own community as I otherwise would be.
Q: What advice would you give to a child/student that is considering this profession?
A: Make your primary goal to learn how to learn. Developing this talent will serve you better than any skill you can learn.
As you learn how to learn, explore your interests and try to understand your personal style. Then develop a career and a around these interests that will be compatible with your style.
Always keep an eye on the big-picture while taking care never to lose track of details.
Never underestimate the value of being genuinely likable. No matter what you know or how good you are at something, people will not want to work with you or for you if you are not a likeable person – and nothing remarkable will ever happen in your career without other people helping you along the way.
Find out what your parents do for work and what their friends do for work. Take the time as you’re growing up to ask questions and even follow them around for a day at their job. Exposure to the professional world and the way adults interact with one another will provide you with incredible insights.
Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you choose the same profession?
A: I would definitely choose some sort of real estate development again if I had to do it all over again. I find it so fascinating to be able to travel down the street of a random city and know that I played a role in the creation or revitalization of a major piece of property. One thing that I would change, however, is where I did my work: I think I’d opt to work closer to home.
Q: Nick and Ryan want to know if you have fun?
A: Yes, but it can also be stressful…
Q: Do you receive a pension?
A: No. Our company does provide a 401k, however. A 401k is the modern equivalent of a pension. Its main difference is that while a pension promises that you’ll get paid a certain amount of money for a certain amount of time, a 401k plan doesn’t promise any specific future payments. With a 401k plan, the amount of money that is available in retirement, is based on the amount of money that somebody decides to save and the investment decisions that they make.