For 16 years, Bob Newman served as Chief Operating Officer of the Better Housing Coalition. In August he became CEO of the Virginia Community Development Corporation, or VCDC. We asked Bob to reflect on his career with BHC and how it prepared him for this new opportunity.
Q: How and when did you join to the Better Housing Coalition?
A: I met (former CEO) TK Somanath while working at another non-profit community development corporation in Charlottesville in the early 90’s. I got to know the Richmond Better Housing Coalition (now BHC) while working for the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development a few years later. As BHC began to grow with the acquisition of Park Lee Apartments (now Winchester Greens) in 1997, TK approached me about joining and helping to build the team. We had six employees then, compared to 80 today.
Q: What did your job as BHC’s Chief Operating Officer entail?
A. I was in charge of real estate development, construction, asset management and property management. I was also involved in developing and implementing strategic plans for the future of the organization. During my tenure I oversaw the formation of our property management company and our construction company, which helped fuel our mission.
Q: What do you consider your most significant contribution to BHC?
A. I have always been motivated by the importance of our mission in the community. BHC has been very successful at truly changing lives and transforming communities. While I contributed to the plans and the bricks and mortar, sharing my passion for the mission with staff and supporters hopefully left a lasting impact that motivates them to continue to serve.
Q: What was your fondest memory at BHC?
A. I have many great memories, but the most enduring one involved Sheila Mayes, a former resident of Park Lee Apartments. When BHC faced the challenge of redeveloping a long neglected and very depressed neighborhood, we involved the residents in the visioning and planning process. Sheila was one of several resident leaders during the transformation into Winchester Greens. We developed a very bold plan that exceeded expectations of how that community could be transformed. At the dedication ceremony, Sheila said, “BHC made lots of big promises and delivered on all of them.” Her words made me proud that, above all, she recognized our integrity. Thinking big, envisioning a robust future and having the skill and dedication to succeed at daunting challenges is exactly what a community development corporation should do, and BHC has been better than most at living up to those words of praise.
Q: What was your greatest challenge at BHC?
A. Creating affordable housing is difficult, and most people do not have a good understanding of the daily challenges we face. Had we realized there were so many hurdles, many might not have chosen this path for fear of failure. Having said that, many dedicated people with beautiful hearts and outstanding minds have chosen to dedicate their lives to being a part of this important work, and I am grateful for that. The most important ingredient in our work will always bepassion.
Q: Tell us a little about the Virginia Community Development Corporation.
A. VCDC is a non-profit syndicator of tax credit equity. We raise private investment from corporations desirous of a tax shelter, and reinvest those funds in community development projects around Virginia and neighboring states that will create opportunities for residents of those communities to thrive. As examples of how our two organizations are closely tied, VCDC has invested in several BHC communities over the years, including St. Andrews, Claiborne Square, Beckstoffer’s Lofts, North Oak and the East End Scattered Site development in Church Hill. I truly think that VCDC does what it does better than anyone else in the business, and I am very happy to have the opportunity to lead that team.
Q: How did your career at BHC prepare you for your CEO role?
A. I had the opportunity to work closely with a great role model, T.K. Somanath, for 16 years. I learned so much from him about how to keep the mission and vision constantly in view. He also showed me the importance of connecting with people from all walks of life, and maintaining relationships with people because our paths are intertwined. Finally, having a leadership role and the opportunity to teach and mentor so many talented people laid the groundwork for my new role with another great organization.