Georgia Murray, POAH’s new Board Chair, (center in photo), began her new role this month, following 12 years as a board member. We asked her what changes she’s seen in the organization during her tenure, what she sees as the organizational priorities for the future and her governance approach for the board.
Georgia Murray joined the POAH Board in 2007. From 1973-2000, she was in senior positions at Boston Financial, a real estate investment company and in senior positions in Property Management, Asset Management and Investment and Acquisitions. She was the first president of the Multifamily Housing Institute, a trustee of the Urban Land Institute, and a director of the National Multifamily Housing Council. She was a member of the executive committee of the Commonwealth Housing Task Force. In addition to her housing experience, Murray was chair of the board of the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, the non-profit created to build a vibrant civic space in Boston on the land atop the “Big Dig” tunnel, and guided it through its strategic planning process to create public art space in the City.
What attracted you to board involvement at POAH and how long have you served?
I was recruited by my long-time friend, Amy Anthony whom I knew from the affordable housing world where we both started our careers. I knew and respected her work in the field and her achievement in founding POAH in 2001. I was already convinced that it was a great organization and I knew it had a great mission. I was wrapping up a 30 year career at Boston Financial and I wanted to still be involved in affordable housing which was near and dear to my heart, so it was an easy sell when she invited me to join the board.
What are the major changes you’ve seen in the organization during your tenure?
I’ve witnessed the growth of a organization that not only expanded its mission but the strategy around it which meant moving beyond just producing already-assisted housing to taking on transformative projects like our redevelopment on the South Side of Chicago. In doing so, we looked at a prospective project and said “This could be some place where we can not only preserve affordable units, demolish outdated ones and build new buildings but go bigger and broader by reinvesting in the whole neighborhood.” This meant attracting other organizations and institutions to invest in those neighborhoods as well - whether it be economic development, new retail opportunities or places where community can come together.
And the success of the Chicago experience has allowed us to replicate this model in Boston and Washington D.C. where we’re going just as big.
The second major change was in the area of resident services, or “community impact” as it is now called, in which we treat housing as a platform for a broader mission that improves the lives of our residents. And through this program, we are seeing great results in resident housing stability, employment, financial stability and community engagement.
What do you see as the biggest priorities for POAH in the near future and beyond?
One is to keep our high level of creativity in our approach to seemingly intractable problems. The landscape of opportunities is both broadening and getting more difficult. At the same time, the properties that are available for preservation of affordability are in complicated ownership structures that involve both for-for-profit developers and community activists, often with competing interests. Second is to understand that there will be new housing programs in the future, and we can play an active role in shaping them on both the policy development and the implementation in the early stages.
And third, staying on top of the ideas and expanding the mission of POAH to use housing as a platform and to lead the charge in enthusiasm for this not only in POAH, but throughout the affordable housing world.
So it’s expanding both our physical assets and our reach in public policy and the processes. That’s why advocacy on the national level is important right now. POAH’s ideas and experience have always been respected on the issues effecting affordable housing. Looking at the past few years, it’s been a difficult time for public policy advances but even so, we’ve shown that working together across the aisle with both political parties creates a good budget and a better outlook for the future.
What makes POAH shine as a non-profit organization given your understanding of other nonprofits?
What makes us a special is the combination of being mission driven with the understanding that you need to have an organization that can sustain itself and thrive through good budgeting and good cash flow. We’re closely aligned with some for-profits and some non-profits. We’re a genre that doesn’t lend itself to either completely; we’re mission-driven but we care deeply about being financially viable so we can be there for our communities for years to come. And over last 10-20 years, good nonprofits recognize that being financially stable really means being “on mission.” There was a time when nonprofits were proud that they almost didn’t make it from one year to next. Well-run nonprofits, like POAH, understand they need to be strong financially. Without it, the mission gets compromised and you spend all your time on the fiscal aspects of the organization rather than the mission.
POAH realized early on that we had to have a solid financial underpinning to be viable in the long-term. That allows us to provide the housing as a platform, investing in the success of our residents and the community. We leverage our assets to seek funding is for the programs that give families the chance for self-sufficiency.
In March, friends and colleagues will come together to honor the life and legacy of Amy Anthony, POAH’s co-founder. What do you see as her legacy to this organization and to the field of affordable housing?
Amy’s tenacity and ability to fight through any barriers to create and preserve affordable housing will always be legendary. Her ability to work on an affordable housing programs whether on the state or federal level and see where they could be changed to make them more effective - that was the gift that she brought to this world. She was always wanting to challenge the status quo and she effected a lot of change as a result. Many residents in affordable housing have benefited from her work, but will never even know her name. I look at major policy changes she had a hand in, like the CHOICE program. Because of her vision and understanding, POAH became one of the first organizations entrusted to implement it.
And I will always think of all the organizations that she helped establish and that she grew beyond POAH – like Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future and the Multifamily Housing Institute. They will always be part of the long legacy.
What do you view as your style of board leadership and how do you see yourself engaging the other board members in these important leadership roles?
I tend to be a consensus leader but at the same time, I want people to spend their time on this work efficiently. I think we need to respect the time and dedication of these very talented board members as well as the staff. We have a great board – people willing and able to contribute to the advancement of POAH. And my style tends to be pretty informal; I want to hear from everyone and we can be flexible while being respectful of people’s time. Our board comes from diverse backgrounds - it is that diversity of background and opinion that will help shape POAH in the future.
Over the years, I think we have made our reporting process more streamlined, reduced the amount of paperwork that goes into the board report and assume that people are committed enough to read the materials and so don’t need verbal briefings that repeat those reports. The work of the board can go on between meetings as well as the actual two-day quarterly convening.
Leadership should be fluid and sharing leadership roles is healthy. Change can be exciting if you’re open to it. Both the POAH Board and staff embrace that philosophy, and that makes life at POAH exciting. Let’s take some risks that can help us grow, backed by our competence and visionary outlook and let’s move forward!