SHA Welcomes Staci Berger
The Housing and Community Development
Network of NJ
These are excerpts of the Q&A; from Gail Levinson and Staci Berger - the full discussion can be read at the SHA web by clicking here
Congratulations Staci on your new position as Executive Director of the HCDNNJ. Tell us a little about your background and previous work at the Network.
Thanks Gail! I have lived in New Jersey my entire adult life, moving from a Boston suburb to attend Livingston College at Rutgers, staying in the New Brunswick area ever since. In 2005 I joined the Network, as the Director of Policy and Advocacy and served one year as the Interim Associate Director.
Prior to being at the Network, I worked for a decade with New Jersey Citizen Action, as the program and political director for the state's largest consumer watchdog organization. While I was at NJCA, I obtained my master's degree from the Bloustein School. Before that, I was a union organizer with the AFL-CIO, and helped win representation for Red Cross nurses and staff in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area with the Hospital Professionals and Allied Employees/AFT.
During and after college I was very involved in student and community organizing, working on a range of education, human and civil rights issues. I gravitated toward those activities; they are just part of how I was raised and who I am. My mom took me to my first anti-war rally when I was two and we always talked politics at the dinner table in our family. In fourth grade I started a newspaper with my school friends i, in which we published my first op-ed against Massachusetts' property tax cap.
What is the mission of HCDNNJ and what are some of the issues about affordable housing that you are particularly interested in focusing on as the new director? Will there be a shift in policy or perspective?
The Network's mission, to enhance the ability of our members to create and preserve long-term affordable homes and build strong communities in NJ through networking, support services, training, capacity building, resource development, education and public policy advocacy, remains as important as ever.
Our Network is now bigger and broader than the CDCs that originally formed the core of our membership in 1989, and that is a strong foundation we can build on. Together with our members we are agents of change.
I intend to build on the two decades of experience and expertise we have, to make the Network the vanguard for people and organizations to come together to build homes, create hope and change lives.
SHA and HCDNNJ have been partners for many years. Are there new ways in which we can work together to support each other that will lead to a stronger and more enhanced system of affordable housing for people of low income and those living with special needs?
The Network and SHA have a terrific partnership and I expect to continue that tradition.One way to do that is to create and foster affinity groups within the Network so that members doing similar work can learn from each other. It could be fruitful to do that with SHA and our members who are engaged in supportive housing efforts, or members interested in using innovative funding streams like County Homeless Trust Funds and Social Impact Bonds.
Regular conversations among our leaders and members can help inform our policy, research and training agendas going forward. SHA and the Network could potentially co-sponsor those discussions or training's and cross-market opportunities that result from them. We can also continue to promote each other's ideas and agendas using technology more often and more effectively.
What are your hobbies and interests when you are away from the responsibilities of Executive Director?
I enjoy spending time with my family, which right now means a lot of hours clocked at Little League and Recreational Baseball. My husband is coaching both of our boys, who are 11 and 7, on their respective teams, and so nearly every day involves something related to baseball. I never thought I would have to learn to tolerate - or even understand - sports. I have had to study up on football, lacrosse, baseball, karate, soccer...you name it. I know that this age is fleeting, and that soon they will be too cool to hang out with their mom, so I am making the most of the time I have with them.
Recently I started running, for pleasure, which is not something I ever imagined I would enjoy doing, but have become totally addicted to it. My first 5K is in a few weeks, and am hoping to finish with a decent time.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
We need to do a better job making sure elected officials and corporate leaders understand our mission and our results. The kinds of homes we build and the communities we create are stories that can be told in ways that bring people together, towards a common vision of what is possible. We live in a very wealthy state, both financially and with regard to human capital.
I cannot believe that anyone - regardless of their political views - intentionally wants a child to be homeless, or to have veterans to live in cars or tents in the woods, or to have Sandy victims still crammed into motels. We can do better for our neighbors and ourselves by making sure everyone has the chance to live in a home they can afford in a place they choose. If we work together, I think we can make that happen.