Wednesday, October 24, 2012

To develop leadership, young housers need mentorship

by Eva Wingren, Mercy Housing

Like many a young D.C. wonk I moved cross-country, not knowing anyone, to take a job that would ultimately rely on who I knew. My employer is a small incarnation of a large nonprofit with offices spread all over the country—it's hard in a small office like mine to get a lot of one-on-one career guidance from others in the housing world. Fortunately, Young Leaders in Affordable Housing's mentorship program introduced me to my D.C. colleagues at other organizations. I was particularly blessed to be matched with Barbara Burnham, Vice President for Federal Policy at LISC. Barbara has incredible longitudinal experience in campaigns and federal policy, and a keen sense of the political realities we are dealing with. She also knows where to push.

At my first meeting with Barbara, I remember despairing of ever accomplishing anything or even understanding the system. “Keep this in mind, Eva,” she said, “you’ve come to Washington at the worst time I can remember. Congress is the most bogged down in partisan infighting, the White House is the most distracted from domestic policy issues, HUD is the most constrained in creating new programs because almost 85% of their funding goes toward renewals of Section 8. It’s bad. If this is the only reality you know, and you jump right in regardless, you’re ahead of the rest of us.”

Of course, Barbara and I spent time discussing my professional development, but where this experience differed from other mentors I’ve had is that, being in the same field, the knowledge she shared actually helped me do my job. My employer is bringing its board to D.C. to advocate on Capitol Hill early next year, and the structure of this big endeavor was created based on contacts she facilitated for me. With the community development field being so interconnected, I have no doubt that other mentors inspired similar collaborations.

I’ve been in D.C. almost a year and a half now and finally feel like I understand the system here, at least a little bit. I’m not holding my breath for the partisan-ness to decrease; rather, I’m just thankful for the wonderful support system I have developed through YLAH and the mentorship program. Now I know who I need to know; the plan for next year is to meet them!

Eva Wingren is a Policy Associate with Mercy Housing, Inc., responsible for public policy, advocacy, and education for one of the nation’s largest nonprofit affordable housing developers, and a member of NHC's Young Leaders in Affordable Housing (YLAH).

YLAH volunteers are preparing right now for a January 2013 launch of the YLAH Mentorship Program’s second year. In 2013, the program will: (1) provide a bigger launch event to help more mentors and mentees get to know both their peers and their mentor-mentee matches; (2) provide events for mentors and mentees to attend together; and (3) foster a broader sense of community among all program participants.

If you would like to participate as a 2013 YLAH Mentor or Mentee, please contact Ben Funk, YLAH Professional Development Committee Chair, or Elina Bravve, YLAH Mentorship Program Subcommittee Chair. You can reach Ben at (202) 674-3797 or, and you can reach Elina at (585) 329-4798 or

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