Anne Mavity started her career by spending her days pounding the streets of an inner-city neighborhood as a community organizer; then she spent four years in Russia where she was a front-line worker for the United States Agency for International Development.
Since, she has worked on a congressional subcommittee on housing and has provided technical assistance and underwriting at the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH). Most recently, Mavity was in charge at Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, where she advocated for affordable housing across the metro and helped Edina, which has recently adopted its first supportive housing development.
Thirty years after launching a career that has been focused on affordable housing, fundraising and development, Mavity is confronting a new challenge — she is the executive director at the Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP), a nationally known affordable housing organization that is tasked with helping to increase housing opportunities for low-income families.
It is a daunting challenge considering that her predecessor, Chip Halbach, helped start the organization and was its top executive for three decades, and that the disparity between family income and rents keeps growing wider.
As she begins her second month on the new job, she talked about her career and the challenges that she faces in her new role. Excerpts from an interview:
Q: What inspired you to focus on the housing issue?
A: A few years back, I was a volunteer interviewing people who were experiencing homelessness as part of the “Oral History” project which was supported by a Minnesota Historical Society Legacy Grant, led by local writer Margaret Miles. The goal was to document the experience of being homeless. During these conversations, I was so moved by the optimism and perseverance of individuals that were facing so many challenges on a daily basis, just to find a place to sleep, basic shelter to stay warm and food to eat. Once you learn someone’s story, meet them as a person and not as a statistic, it takes this conversation beyond the numbers and into a deep understanding of the human costs of our inaction.
Q: What is the biggest challenge following in the footsteps of the founding executive?
A: The first day I arrived at the office, I discovered underneath my desk a pair of big, old, dust-covered loafers that Chip had left. I still don’t know if that was intentional or not, but it certainly reminded me — literally — of the big shoes I have to fill. The truth is, MHP has a dedicated board, talented staff and a sound financial foundation. It’s a great base to build on. And while Chip and I have different styles, we are entirely aligned in our shared vision for expanding the public understanding and will to tackle the challenge of ensuring everyone has stable, safe, housing that they can afford.
Q: At MHP, you are responsible for helping the organization maintain financial stability, but you have also been tasked with helping MHP focus on three core areas of work: policy and advocacy, research and communications, and capacity-building. What is the biggest of those?
A: At the same time that we are trying to create more housing opportunities to meet the growing need, our communities are actually losing existing housing that has been affordable because of rising rents and “upscaling” of older buildings. We have to figure out how to create the right policies and funding strategies to both preserve what we have in place, while producing new housing for this growing need. We’re fighting this on so many fronts with a growing coalition of partners from the government, nonprofit and private sectors. And that collaboration is critical: With federal funding at great risk, we need all hands on deck to ensure local and state efforts take on a greater significance and impact.
Q: Chip and the staff had many notable achievements, including establishing a property tax break for affordable rentals and helping secure funds for a national housing trust. What is your next goal?
A: MHP has earned a reputation as a trusted source for research and for effective advocacy on affordable housing in Minnesota, and I fully intend on continuing that work. In addition, and a part of MHP that is less well known, is that MHP works to build capacity of communities across Minnesota and beyond, by convening local leaders and helping to identify practical ways to address each community’s unique housing and community development challenges.
As I look to the future, I hope we can bring that reach and expertise in greater Minnesota/rural areas to strengthen our advocacy work and ensure that our elected officials throughout Minnesota understand that housing is not a partisan issue — it’s a family issue, a business issue, a health care issue, an education issue — and that we all have an interest in getting this right.
Q: The state is facing an overwhelming and growing housing affordability gap that you note has a big impact on business growth, community stability and families. Any opportunities out there?
A: Affordable housing is in the political and public spotlight right now. We’ve seen this clearly in local elections, as most candidates in this year’s municipal campaigns emphasized affordable housing as a top priority. And that’s not surprising. Business leaders are clear that a lack of affordable housing is impacting their ability to grow, educators recognize that housing instability undermines student success, health care providers understand that housing itself is health care, and cities increasingly see affordable housing as essential to stable and strong communities. So we have a huge opportunity to grow and leverage this public understanding into a powerful public will to address this — with more reliable and permanent funding that will support more production as well as smart policies that ensure equal and fair access to housing.
Q: If you could have a single wish granted to help you do your job better, what would it be?
A: More hours in the day would be a good start.
Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376