Habitat’s Affordable Austin Housing with Phyllis Snodgrass

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I’m joined by Phyllis Snodgrass, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Austin, to talk about a topic near and dear to both her heart and mine: affordable housing in Austin, Texas. This week, Phyllis and I talk about her journey from accounting to Chamber of Commerce to Habitat for Humanity, the exciting affordable housing projects happening around us and the barriers those projects face, and where Phyllis will be headed next when her time at Habitat comes to a close.

Timecoded Guide:
[00:31] Transitioning from her role as an accountant to a career in commerce to, eventually, finding a place working with Habitat for Humanity
[07:11] Understanding Habitat’s mission and the three pillars that keep them grounded in their work towards providing affordable housing in all communities
[13:45] Making the decision to leave Habitat to become a part of C12, and making sure the organization is ready to continue growing with someone new
[19:13] Challenging the perceptions and biases around affordable housing, and understanding how those biases negatively affect affordable housing expansion
[28:48] Working with for-profit developers and making the most of the spaces within the city of Austin to encourage workers, artists, and teachers to live there

What was the impetus behind your move from the Chamber of Commerce to Habitat for Humanity?
Beginning her career in accounting, Phyllis wasn’t entirely sure where she would end up. Realizing early-on that her passion was rooted more in community than in accounting, she took a position at the Chamber of Commerce and became known as the “fix it” person. It’s this “fix it” mentality that brought her to a perfect position as the CEO of Habitat for Humanity Austin, where she’s made it possible for the organization to not only grow, but thrive.

“The more I dug into Habitat, the more I realized this was a really great next step for me, and I fell in love with the work and the brand and the people.”

What are the challenges for trying to get projects approved that you’ve seen and gone through?
While permitting and price increases harm Habitat even more than for-profit developers, one of the biggest challenges for Habitat projects is perception and bias. No matter where a project plans to take root, Phyllis has seen entire communities claim to not want more affordable housing in their areas due to harmful stereotypes about individuals that need affordable housing and misconceptions about the economic impact of these projects.

“As a community, if we say we care about people and that we’re a loving community, we need to live up to that and challenge ourselves to our own bad assumptions.”

How does Habitat come in and work with for-profit developers?
Outside of building their own properties and owning their own plots of land, Habitat focuses on working with for-profit developers and finding a way to make small portions of new developments much more affordable. For for-profit developers looking to get involved in affordable housing, Phyllis recommends reaching out to them as soon as possible to avoid the hangups they often face with permitting and HOA-related fees.

“They’re gonna build what makes sense for them. If I can get affordable housing in it, I’m gonna find a way to do that, because otherwise, it’s not gonna happen. There’s nothing about affordable housing that’s easy.”

What have you decided to do now that you’re leaving Habitat?
Leaving Habitat was an extremely hard decision for Phyllis to make, but she felt the need for a change and it felt like the right time to make that choice. After considering her options and her desire to impact her community, she has joined the organization C12, where she can support CEOs and business owners in creating and expanding their businesses in tune with their internal values and beliefs.

“I think Habitat is going to be attractive to someone who can really grow it and lead it, and I want somebody to be here who can be with these projects to the end, right? I didn’t want to exit in the middle of them.”

Keep up with Phyllis Snodgrass on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Learn more about Habitat for Humanity Austin on their website and LinkedIn. https://austinhabitat.org/
Find out more about C12 on their website and LinkedIn.

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