Meet the women blazing the trail for housing equity in Metro Atlanta
Every year, HOPE Atlanta honors community leaders who are making an impact in the fight to end homelessness and hunger during the annual Heroes for HOPE gala. Not only are both of this year’s honorees women and affordable housing advocates. This year’s event is also led by two female co-chairs who have been instrumental to its success.
Let’s meet these four leaders who are helping to raise awareness and action around problems that have long been hiding in plain sight: homelessness and housing insecurity in and around Atlanta.
Ann Cone: 2021 Heroes for HOPE Honoree and Champion Sponsor
For Ann, Senior Vice President at commercial real estate firm CBRE and co-founder of the Atlanta Women’s Affordable Housing Network, providing housing has long been a core focus. “People experience homelessness in different ways, but at the core is a lack of stable housing.”
Ann began her housing career working for a nonprofit that assisted people with developmental disabilities. There, she saw firsthand the dramatic effects stable housing could have on a person’s livelihood and wellbeing.
“It was so gratifying to see the impact that a home provided to someone who had only known institutional living,” she said. “Through my work there, we were able to provide community living for over 250 individuals. It really struck a nerve with me that we all deserve a chance at dignity and respect, and a home is the basis for consistency in that.”
Her continued work in affordable housing has shed light on the complex nature of our community’s homelessness problem and why the situation is so difficult for many to overcome.
“Poor health and chronic illness can cause homelessness, and living on the street then intensifies existing health and medical problems and causes new ones,” she said. “Then you add in that people living on the streets are exposed to the elements and are at risk for their personal safety. This is a cycle that repeats itself unless people have stability.”
Through her career as an affordable housing loan originator, where she plays a crucial role in making more affordable housing available, and her financial support of HOPE Atlanta, she stands out as a champion for housing equity around Atlanta.
“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘When life gets hard, try to remember: the life you complain about is only a dream to some people,’” she said. “This really puts into perspective how we all need to come together and be part of the solution.”
Althea Broughton: 2021 Heroes for HOPE Honoree
Commercial real estate transactions are complicated and, because of regulations and financing requirements, affordable housing initiatives can be even more complex. Fortunately, our community has professionals like Althea paving the way. As Partner at Arnall Golden Gregory LLP’s real estate practice, she not only helps companies navigate affordable housing transactions with expertise. She is well-regarded in the broader community for her social engagement and philanthropy.
While Althea has devoted her career to enabling affordable housing around Atlanta, which will be essential to long-term homelessness relief, she recognizes the acute need to assist people and families in crisis. Supporting HOPE Atlanta was a natural choice.
“HOPE Atlanta addresses the housing need in an immediate and urgent way, working specifically to stabilize families and individuals,” she said, noting the significance of HOPE Atlanta’s rapid re-housing program.
“The rapid re-housing program provides grace, relief, and cover — some breathing space — to help families and individuals stabilize and determine a path forward. Rapid Re-Housing is critical intervention at a critical time and is an important space on the affordable housing spectrum,” she said
Although affordable housing continues to present a challenge in our communities, Althea remains hopeful for the future and believes the tide is starting to turn.
“What is great about this time in Atlanta is that affordable housing issues are getting more and more attention and focus,” she said. “I think an all-hands approach is needed to address affordable housing, and there are different tools for different affordable housing-related issues. What’s important is that the toolbox is complete, and HOPE Atlanta is an important tool in the affordable housing toolbox.”
Heather Olson: 2021 Heroes for HOPE Co-Chair
As Managing Director of Affordable Housing at Berkadia, Heather Olson is a leading expert on leveraging capital to drive affordable housing development. She was honored in 2018 as a Young Leader by Affordable Housing Finance and received a Women with Vision Award in 2019.
Although she currently lives in Florida, she remains close to Atlanta’s housing equity initiatives by supporting HOPE Atlanta and serving on the Board of Directors. Her exposure to the affordable housing crisis and how it has long term negative effects on our communities is why she continues to fight for change.
“I believe there are two human rights that are essential for our children to have a fighting chance in this world: a safe home and a sound education. If you do not have a safe home that you can go to every night, to rest your head on a bed that is clean, how can you know that you have a place in this world?”
“Affordable housing and access to a good education are typically exclusive of each other. In Atlanta, it is nearly impossible for our most vulnerable families to find housing within the desirable school districts that they can afford. We need to bring affordable housing into these communities to give all children access to the education they deserve.”
Heather believes that one of the challenges in building more affordable housing in these “desired” neighborhoods is society’s attitudes, which are often misinformed.
“A lot of it is ‘NIMBY-ism’ (not in my backyard),” she said. “Everyone talks big about how affordable housing is needed, but no one seems to want to build it in their own communities. We’ve been raised to believe that low-income housing, including Section 8 housing, brings crime to the area and will bring our own home values down. This way of thinking will continue the legacy of systematic racism in housing and will keep our children in the same fight for a fair education and fair housing. We must be the generation that changes this never-ending cycle.”
Monalisa Chowdhury: 2021 Heroes for HOPE Co-Chair
In Bangladesh, where Monalisa is from, almost one in four people live in poverty. Five million of them live without housing and another 124 million in unsuitable and unstable habitats, like mud houses and slums.
“I’ve witnessed the devastation brought on to individuals and communities by these issues, which is why these are issues close to my heart,” she said. “I think HOPE Atlanta is doing a tremendous job battling homelessness and hunger in the Atlanta community.”
Originally a supporter of Action Ministries (which combined with HOPE Atlanta earlier this year), she decided to continue her involvement by co-chairing this year’s Heroes for HOPE event. Her leadership has already been instrumental, and as Head of Financial Reporting & Business Unit Controllership at Voya Financial, she sees the community’s affordable housing crisis as an unfortunate side effect of economic conditions.
“Atlanta is one of the top cities to live in the U.S. due to strong job market, reasonable cost of living, access to good education, weather, etc., which attracts millions of people to move to the greater Atlanta area,” she said. “However, these factors have also driven up housing prices to unprecedented levels. I don’t think many people realize how much the housing prices in Atlanta have increased and how that has impacted homelessness among the greater Atlanta residents.”
The one thing she would tell other professionals looking to get involved in the cause?
“We’re living in unprecedented times with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated the homelessness and hunger challenges our community has already been struggling with. It is more important than ever for all of us to come together to support our community now.”
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