“We all need this place.”
Graduate reflects on a fulfilling career in affordable housing industry
Just saying the word out loud can make you smile. It’s a comforting word, a cozy word. A word that can be used to describe everything from the place we go to at the end of our work day to the place we grew up.
It’s the place where we can be ourselves, tune out the rest of the world, be protected from the elements, or simply get the rest we need to wake up the next morning and start the day all over again.
We all need this place.
I began my first year at Loyola in the fall of 1992 and graduated in the spring of 1996 with a BBA in Accounting. In the fall of my senior year, I participated in the on-campus recruiting process at Loyola.
After rounds of interviews and sifting through offers from multiple firms, I accepted an offer from a large regional (now national) CPA firm in the Baltimore area. I planned to start the following September as a staff accountant in the firm’s Baltimore office, leaving the summer free to prepare for the CPA exam.
The firm’s main industry was real estate, specifically affordable housing. It was—and continues to be—an industry leader in the affordable housing arena. The federal low-income housing tax credit program was established in 1986 under Section 42 of the Internal Revenue Code. Housing properties are awarded tax credits from the federal government (administered through the states) after developers apply for, build, and agree to operate the property in compliance with the provisions of the tax law. The main components of compliance are the income levels of the tenants, which must be below a specified percentage of area median income, and the rent charged at the property must be restricted to levels of affordability.
In short, the program works. The investors who purchase the tax credits are able to offset their federal tax liability, and the properties are of higher quality construction because of this funding source.
I spent four years at the firm as a CPA, working on all facets of these affordable housing partnerships. I performed audits, tax returns, and special agreed-upon procedures, such as tenant file review and construction cost certifications.
As a number of my accounting friends (working for different firms, all landing their post-Loyola jobs from the on-campus recruitment) started to leave public accounting for more traditional internal accounting positions, I was thoroughly enjoying working in public accounting. I was hooked on affordable housing.
While working at this firm, I built the foundation of my knowledge base in this industry. And it was there that I learned about the industry’s major players, forming professional relationships that I still have today.
Four years after graduation, I decided to move to New York City. I caught a glimpse of the “young professional in the city” life while working there on client engagements for the firm. I wanted more—much more. I wanted to be the young career girl grabbing her morning coffee from a street cart, then heading to my office, click-clacking my high heels on the pavement. My dream became a reality in the year 2000.
I spent the first few months in Manhattan contemplating if I had made the right move. I missed my car and shopping malls (these things are as rare in NYC as snagging a seat on subway during the morning rush), but after about a year, I was confident with my decision. I had fallen hard for my new city. I worked for a few more years in public accounting (this time at a large international firm, one of the “Big 4”), then in portfolio asset management for a global insurance company that guaranteed low-income housing tax credit funds, and finally in affordable housing finance (syndication) for one of the nation’s ten largest residential property owners. I’ve been in my current role for the last 10 years. (Coincidentally, I was introduced to the owner of my company by the managing partner in the first office I ever worked!)
I’ve been in the affordable housing industry now for almost 20 years. To work in finance in New York City is not necessarily a “unique” career choice, as it is widely considered the financial capital of the world. What is unique, however, is to work in an area of finance that you can touch (real estate)—and even more unique than that, to work in an industry where at the end of the day, your quantitative analysis efforts can directly be traced to people finding a place they can afford to make their home.
Of my favorite stories regarding my home-related career is one the owner of my company proudly and happily shared while we were in an investor meeting many years ago.
While visiting one of the properties in our development portfolio, he noticed a woman crying in the management office. He approached her and asked her if she was okay. She replied, “Oh yes, thank you for asking. I am doing fine. I am crying because I just picked up the keys for my new apartment. I never thought I’d ever call a place this beautiful my home. These are tears of joy.”
This story stopped me in my tracks. I knew right then and there that what I do every day is not just about the number crunching or the financial analysis, and that the hours I spend pouring over tax returns to make sure the tax credits are reflected properly keeps the program running efficiently and effectively. And it is work worth doing.
“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.