We here at ^Housing Futures believe in highlighting leaders within our field. Today we highlight the Senior Vice President of NAHRO Sunny Shaw.
Question: What is your background (place of birth, place of residence, education, profession)?
I’m a small town Idaho girl! I have lived here all of my life, with the exception of a brief residency in San Diego. My agency is about 2 hours from the tiny town I grew up in. My housing career began in in 2000 on the very frontlines as a PHA receptionist. From there, I began to develop the skill set necessary that prepared me for advancement as the opportunities became available. I have worked as an HCV Eligibility Specialist, HCV Case Manager, HCV Branch Office Supervisor, and in 2010 I moved to Pocatello to become the Executive Director. I have a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Boise State University in Multidisciplinary Studies. I actually completed it after becoming an E.D. and was thrilled to find a program that I could design around what I wanted to learn. It focused on leadership, business management & marketing, and social work. I also hold multiple NAHRO certifications, including PHM and CME.
Question: Can you tell us about your organization?
My agency is my absolute pride. It was great when I arrived in 2010 and we have grown and made it even better! Although our numbers are small, we serve just over 1,000 households, we have a multitude of programs. Our portfolio includes Public Housing, Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8 New Construction, Section 236 Multi-family Housing, Student Housing, and Open Market Rentals. We have a management company and we partner with Neighborworks Pocatello on a Rental Rehab Loan Program. In addition to the bricks and sticks, we offer an ever expanding book program as we work to change futures through reading. We do all of this with a team of only 13. Busy, busy!
Question: Why did you choose to work in the social housing sector?
I started my housing career as a receptionist. Quite frankly, at that point, it was a job. It wasn’t long, however, until this work took hold in my soul. It may seem grandiose, but I like to say that I didn’t chose housing. Housing chose me. I recognized the discouragement and despair on the faces of our clients. I had seen those same expressions on family members growing up. I knew I wanted to fight the good fight; to work to create a more just and equitable world; to provide the basic human right of housing to individuals facing the challenges of life; and to stabilize families so they had hope for a brighter future. I wanted to make a difference.
Question: What do you most hope to achieve in your position?
I want to continue to help develop a stronger community where our citizens have compassion for those struggling to survive. I plan to continue to develop and expand our agency partnerships in order to bring additional services to our families while improving the perception of our work. I am also working to diversify our agency portfolio to make us less dependent on federal funds. Most importantly to me, however, I do not want to lose sight of the individual. Each person has value. I will be a success if I, as well as my team, always remember that.
Question: What motivates you to push for the achievements you are looking for?
I am my brothers’ keeper. I know that, because I have experienced success in my life, I have an obligation to use that success to benefit others.
Question: Looking back at your career so far, what societal impact can you point to that means a lot to you?
The children. Each decision I make that impacts children has an additional weight to it. We now know that poverty can create PTSD in children. Housers provide them with one of the most basic needs and it is a need that can be a stabilizing factor in their lives. We have a responsibility to do all we can to insure that they have hope for the future. I take that responsibility very seriously.
Question: Can you give an example of a moment when you realized the work you were doing made an impact on a family, community or group of people?
There are so very many, but I have one that is forever etched in my mind. We had a client who had been on our program for years. Because of severe disability, he had resigned himself to believing he would always live in an apartment and that the dreams of others were not the dreams for him. He was so wrong. As part of the FSS program he was able to purchase a home. Not just any home, but a home that would accommodate his disabilities as they progressed going forward. He invited me to the home for his final walk through. I was literally moved to tears to see the joy on this man’s face. The realization that the dream of homeownership was for him, well – there wasn’t a dry eye.
Question? What advice would you give someone who would like to grow in their career and have the same job as you some day whether it be an Executive Director or advocate?
The two things that I would say have benefited me the most in my career development have been community involvement and NAHRO membership. Community engagement is essential in developing an understanding of the needs of those we serve. Sit on boards and committees throughout your community. When something big is happening at city council or the school board or any policy making group, you must be present in order to understand the impact the decisions being made will have on your families. The added benefit is the opportunity this will provide to have a voice at the table.
NAHRO was key to providing the networking that has been key to my career development. I met people, at each stage of my career, who were doing the same work. It gave me a natural sounding board of colleagues from across the country who could weigh in when I found myself with an especially challenging situation. NAHRO introduced me to mentors who have continually provided input on the next steps of my career development. And NAHRO provided trainings which have equipped me with the skills necessary to be successful.
Question: Finally; what topics would you like to see covered by Housing Futures? What are the main issues of the day that need attention in social housing?
I am very interested in reading about strategies for success in advocating to our communities and our policy makers about the need for housing. Housing is critical for healthcare and for education. I want to learn how others are making this connection, gathering data, and making change.