THC Staff Spotlight: Emily Oliver, Housing Development Associate

THC actively works to build more affordable housing in DC. We are currently redeveloping Weinberg Commons, an apartment complex that combines energy efficient building techniques with affordable and permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless and low income families. Over the next few months, the THC Affordable Housing team will share updates and milestones about this redevelopment on our blog. To get to know them a bit first, we asked Blaise Rastello and Emily Oliver a little more about themselves and their passion for the work we do. Here is what Emily had to say!

Emily Oliver, Housing Development AssociateTell us about yourself

I’m originally from Annapolis, MD. I’ve lived in DC since June 2014, but I also lived here from 2010-2011. When in DC, I’ve always lived in Petworth.

I’m a Project Associate in THC’s affordable housing development arm, so I research potential properties for acquisition and help to structure those transactions. I also manage projects as they enter and go through their construction phase, and I support senior staff on their projects.

I moved back here from New Orleans, where I worked at a real estate advisory services firm and also completed a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning degree. I came back to DC, and the Petworth neighborhood in particular, because I feel like it’s home. I came to THC because I want to give back to the community I live in and love.

What motivates you to do this kind of work?

My underlying motivation for working in affordable housing is the desire to help people, particularly vulnerable people who haven’t had the opportunities that we as a country, or city, or community, expect everyone to be able to access. While many professions—especially here in DC—promote equality of opportunity—what I like about affordable housing is the tangible product. The researchers and legislators who inform and create good housing and social policy do incredibly important work, and I definitely considered that path for a long time.

But I found that it’s just inherently really satisfying to build something out of bricks and mortar (or high performance insulation and moisture-resistant membrane in the case of Weinberg Commons). It feels good to know that the product of my work is literally a roof over peoples’ heads.

Of course, as the developer, we’re not actually building anything with our hands, but we are pulling disparate partners with varying motivations together to essentially make something out of nothing. That’s the other thing that motivates me to work in affordable housing; this is way over-romanticizing the work, but I like to think of it as battling and (hopefully) overcoming entropy. Or at least my pop culture understanding of what entropy is.

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entropy is the force that causes the universe to trend towards chaos and destruction, then what motivates me to do this kind of work is the desire to push against that force, pull things together, and create something palpable and socially meaningful.

 

What do you like to do for fun?

Discovering little DC neighborhood sub-cultures is really exciting for me, so one of my favorite pass-times is exploring the city on bike or foot. I’m very slowly enacting a plan to take the metro to every station in the WMATA network and to then bike around the surrounding area, exploring the neighborhood sites, restaurants, and bars. I am at 3 stations out of 91, so I have a long way to go.

I also have friends who I like to hang out with—especially on rooftops and roofdecks.

Talk about an inspiring or transformative moment in your life.

So this is weird, but I experienced a transformative moment while reading a book about David Bowie a few years ago. I was working for a consulting firm in New Orleans while in graduate school, and since most of our clients were large corporations, I felt like a bit of a sell-out. On my lunch breaks, I would take some solace in walking over to a nearby record store and reading bits and pieces of this huge book about David Bowie (I am a big fan).

The transformative moment happened when I read a chapter about young David Bowie (back then he was still David Jones). There were a few throw-away lines from an interview with some nameless musician who ran in the same circles as David when they were all about 18 and just starting to pursue music. What surprised me was that David Bowie’s old acquaintance described him as someone who didn’t really socialize or go out much.

I learned that before he got very famous and very into the 1970s rock-n-roll lifestyle and its accompanying vices, Bowie had a reputation for declining invitations to parties so that he could “stay home and work.”

The friend being interviewed said something about how, in retrospect, that’s probably why Bowie ended up being so much more successful than the rest of them. Reading this made me realize that what differentiates David Bowie from many of his equally talented or creative peers, is that he was and still is totally dedicated to perfecting his art, which is his work.

I realized that much of what I admire about David Bowie-the-musician is actually a characteristic of David-Bowie-the-person: he clearly just takes so much pride in every aspect of his work. This resonated with me since my own work felt a bit uninspiring at the time. Something clicked where I realized I didn’t need to make a Ziggy Stardust album to exhibit the traits I admired in David Bowie—I just had to do good work and take pride in it. It helped inspire me to find work that truly aligned with my interests and talents. Since then, I’ve tried to make it a deliberate point to apply the same dedication and pursuit of perfection that David Bowie applies to his art to everything that I do.

What inspires you?

…David Bowie.

What does your self-care look like?

I take baths and listen to Billie Holiday. Sometimes I write lyrics and songs on the guitar as a way to process things…the songs are objectively bad, but the process is helpful.

What do you enjoy most about working at THC?

The people and the fact that we work locally.

What is one of your favorite THC memories?

My favorite THC memory so far is definitely the Weinberg Commons groundbreaking ceremony. It was exciting and rewarding to be a part of something that so many people from such distinct organizations and backgrounds had a common stake in. I thought there was a real sense of camaraderie between everyone there, and I know that putting the whole thing together definitely fostered some camaraderie among the THC staff in particular.

My OTHER favorite memory was when JP inexplicably really wanted me to see some random squirrel he saw on the side of the street, so he hit my arm and said “LOOK AT THAT SQUIRELL –did you see him?! Oh my god he was like a KING!”

I still don’t know why this happened or what made the squirrel king-like, and it still makes me laugh.

 

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