For Kimberly Sanchez, the common denominator underlining her transition from CEO of a Florida law firm to executive director of North Carolina’s Community Home Trust was simple: passion.
The nonprofit, which was led by Robert Dowling until late 2019, has expanded in recent years to become the most frequent vendor of affordable housing through partnerships with large companies like health insurance provider Blue Cross Blue Shield. Dowling said he hopes Sanchez’s experience leading a multi-county law firm will aid the organization’s further expansion.
“I hope that she takes the organization to higher ground,” Dowling said. “I was there for 22 years, and we took the organization from where we were in 1997 to where we are today, a very different place, and that over the next three, five, 10 years she continues to evolve and continues to serve the citizens of Orange County.”
Sanchez said the unique collaboration Community Home Trust facilitates between governments, nonprofit organizations and homeowners by using the land trust model has made the nonprofit an attractive fit for her skill set.
“The wonderful thing about that is because it’s inclusionary, it’s part of the development and project from the very beginning,” Sanchez said. “It develops a neighborhood that is much more inclusive and much more diverse for the community without standing out in a way that could be perceived by other persons or communities as negative.”
According to the Community Home Trust’s website, its land trust model comprises of buying homes from local developers — who are required by local government to make a portion of their housing units affordable — and reselling them to low-income clients at an affordable price.
"As a result of local governments’ housing policies, Community Home Trust is the primary provider of affordable homeownership in Orange County," the website says. "Our homes typically sell for between $90,000 and $155,000 or 30% to 50% below the market value."
Sanchez also said her expertise in landlord-tenant and property law fits the changing work of Community Home Trust well. She said she hopes to bring a new perspective to affordable housing dialogue.
“Everybody recognizes that there’s a larger conversation going on involving affordable housing,” Sanchez said. “But we don’t always understand why it’s particularly important."
Sanchez will also replace Dowling as Community Home Trust’s representative member on the Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition (OCAHC). Jennifer Player of Habitat for Humanity will replace Dowling as co-chair.
Dowling said he is glad for the new ideas Sanchez will bring to an affordable housing market he said was increasingly bleak.
“All of the trends — income trends, demographic trends, trends of developing housing — are all working against us,” Dowling said. “It’s really hard to create affordable housing, it’s much harder today than it was 20 years ago.”
OCAHC co-chair Delores Bailey said the organization will miss Dowling’s expertise. She added that student engagement in the affordable housing conversation will be crucial in the coming years.
“It’s not another dorm that just happens to be off-campus. It happens to be a residence in a community,” Bailey said. “There’s a lot of people who are opening their arms to them as members of the community, not as students.”
Sanchez also emphasized the importance of student involvement.
“I think there are opportunities for students to get involved in their community, and one of the best ways to do that is to talk about housing,” Sanchez said. “We all need it, we’re only safe when we have it, and all of the trends are all really against us right now”
Sanchez said she knows that challenges lie ahead of Community Home Trust. But despite the trends, she expressed hope for the role of students as the future of housing affordability moves past bleakness.
“As we look at trying to look forward, that our communities are safe, healthy and inclusive, the student population has a very big role in being a leader," she said.
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