'We continue to have a real dire need for affordable housing'

Inside the planned community that James Rouse built is an organization he founded to do what most people would consider impossible.

Rouse, developer of Columbia, wanted to put an end to poverty — within a single generation — by expanding affordable housing and community development nationwide. Twenty-eight years later, the poverty rate is rising rather than falling. But Rouse's nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners has ballooned into one of the nation's largest financiers of apartments and homes that low- and moderate-income people can afford.

Now Enterprise has named a new chief executive, who will be the fourth person to run the organization since Rouse stepped aside in 1993. Terri L. Ludwig, 47, Enterprise's current chief operating officer, is set to take over the 450-employee organization on Jan. 1.

She spent most of the past decade working as the president of Merrill Lynch's community development arm. Before that, she led a large New York nonprofit providing "microloans" to small businesses. She has a master's degree from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Ludwig chatted with The Baltimore Sun recently about her forthcoming job, the economic crosswinds buffeting affordable housing and Enterprise's work to bring more investors to the effort.

Question: What draws you to affordable housing? Why do you see it as an issue worth pursuing?

Answer: I grew up in a small town in the Midwest. … We were of modest means, but I had a very stable house and home, and I just think it provided amazing stability for me personally. … I'm very attracted to housing because I think it's one of the basic necessities — food and shelter. It provides an opportunity for folks to lift themselves up.

Q: How have the country's economic difficulties affected the way Enterprise does business?

A: More people are out of jobs. We've seen, obviously, that has hit our communities in a very, very difficult way. So as we care deeply about keeping people in their homes and making sure people have a measure of affordability, it's made our job more challenging. As we talk about poverty rates increasing, and more need out there, we're pushing ourselves to think about how we have greater impact. ... How do we do more with less?

Q: Do falling home prices relieve some of the affordable-housing need?

A: Supply has driven affordability in a positive way in some communities — I would argue some suburban markets and outer areas. But I would say for low- and moderate-income people, there continue to be many challenges in securing affordable housing. … Oftentimes they can't even qualify for rental properties. An increasingly high percentage of income is going to rent. … We continue to have a real dire need for affordable housing in most communities.

Q: What are your goals for Enterprise?

A: We're looking to bring more capital into the marketplace. … We recently launched the Enterprise Community Impact Note. … You can come in and choose a maturity as short as two years and as long as 10 years. You can also choose a rate of return; it varies from zero to 4 percent. Given the comparables in the marketplace today, those are definitely competitive rates. You're getting the added benefit of not only a financial return but a social return: the double bottom line.

Q: Enterprise helps develop rental units as well as homes for sale. What's your take on long-standing federal efforts to encourage buying over renting?

A: It's really important that we're thinking carefully and coming up with ideas to explore new federal policies and programs … so rental housing is valued as highly as homeownership. … There are many people who are renters, and that's more appropriate for their circumstances. We want to make sure we're creating opportunities. Obviously homeownership is an important means for asset accumulation. So how do we think about asset accumulation for renters?

There's just an enormous need for affordable-housing rental units. So I think that's where we're pushing, that that doesn't get lost.

Q: How has your background prepared you to head Enterprise?

A: I was fortunate enough to serve on Enterprise's New York advisory board. I had been sitting on that advisory board because I was very interested in Enterprise personally, but also Enterprise was an important partner for us at Merrill Lynch. … We were an investor in Low-Income Housing Tax Credit deals. We were also an early investor in the "green" work Enterprise was doing.

Q: What impact has Enterprise had over the years, by the numbers?

A: We've brought over $10 billion of capital into communities since we started, and I think that's the creation of over 250,000 homes.

Q: What about in Baltimore?

A: Enterprise has invested $650 million in Baltimore, and that's in grants and loans and investments that have helped produce 13,000 homes.

Q: Enterprise is a financier nationwide, but you also build homes in this region, don't you?

A: We really have a very strong development arm. … We're really pushing to scale up our efforts in that area. We have a strong commitment to Maryland — our headquarters is there.

Q: Do you work overseas at all?

A: We almost exclusively work in the U.S. at this point. However … a couple of folks went down after [last January's earthquake in] Haiti, folks that took the [post-disaster] building principles from New Orleans. … We're not actually doing the development of housing [in Haiti]. It's more about sharing best practices.

Q: You're based in New York City. Do you foresee yourself remaining there when you take Enterprise's reins?

A: I do. How it's worked the last year, I've been based here in New York and spending part of my time in Columbia and obviously a good chunk of my time in Washington, D.C., and the other local markets as well. … For me to get a firsthand view of what's happening in local markets is absolutely critical.

Q: Does it make sense for Enterprise to remain based in Columbia? Would you consider moving the headquarters elsewhere?

A: Our lease is up in 2014. As a result, we have to begin our planning. But at this point, I'd say any change in headquarters would be done with great care and thought. At this point, it's not an active consideration for me right now. We continue to recruit and hire staff very actively in Columbia.

jamie.smith.hopkins@baltsun.com

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