Board Member Spotlight: Kizzy Downie
Tell us about your background and why you care about expanding housing opportunities.
I moved to Minnesota 17 years ago from Birmingham, Alabama where I was doing youth work at a nonprofit. I had a Masters in Public Administration with a concentration in Community Planning and Development, and I knew I wanted to continue working in the nonprofit field. A friend of mine was living here and spoke highly of Minnesota’s network of nonprofits; she encouraged me to apply for a position doing youth work for Model Cities, so I did. I had never been to Minnesota before, but I was offered the job and I took it! When I moved to Minnesota, I thought of it as a three-year plan, and now I’ve been here for 17 years. I ended up loving the community. I also had many opportunities for professional development and growth at Model Cities. I was promoted to Housing Manager, which when I first started working with homelessness and housing services. In that position, I saw the many different areas of the housing spectrum where folks need support. I worked with housing programs for many years, then began overseeing all of our community-based services to support homeownership, stable rental housing, and youth. When my predecessor announced her retirement, I decided to apply and was chosen as the next CEO in 2018. It’s been five years and quite the journey since then. I’m glad that the board and previous leadership had the confidence in me to be the leader I am now.
Why were you interested in serving on the Family Housing Fund board?
I knew of housing initiatives at Model Cities that were supported by Family Housing Fund, and it seemed like FHFund was doing insightful work to provide support to folks across the housing continuum. Even though FHFund wasn’t providing direct services, they seemed to be dedicated to making sure folks on the ground had the tools and supports that were needed. As FHFund’s initiatives evolved over the years, it seemed new and innovative to me. When I had the opportunity to join the board, it was a no-brainer. It has been an opportunity to learn, to collaborate among peers, and to be part of work that positively impacts the housing continuum.
What housing aspirations do you have for the region?
My vision is for a more robust system that addresses housing needs along the full continuum. At Model Cities, we support families in emergency shelter and supportive housing, we assist families in achieving homeownership, and we’re even a developer; we see the full spectrum of housing issues and how they are integrated with each other. We need a robust system that understands the full continuum and is centered around meeting individuals’ needs. A system that ensures individuals have housing choices without putting people in a box or creating unnecessary barriers. People need housing that is affordable based on their income and situation, not what we say affordable is. With our segmented system, we have so many policies or programs that are set up in such a way that they prevent people from moving through the continuum successfully. We need a region with sustainable, stable housing in all areas so that people have ample choices that make sense for them wherever they are in life.
What is one area where you think people generally fail to think big enough – and what is your vision for change?
We often fail to think big enough about the possibilities. There are possible solutions that we as a system haven’t fully explored yet, and we should think bigger about what those solutions could be rather than settling for what the system is comfortable with. We absolutely have the resources; that was clear this year when we saw one billion dollars come from the legislature. While that’s a big number – and a success – it’s not nearly enough to fully address our housing challenges. We can think bigger about the solutions and the resources we have within our reach.
What do you do for fun?
I have a daughter who just turned seven, and she’s my mini-me. I love spending time with her and doing the things she enjoys, like going to trampoline parks! I enjoy doing kid-friendly activities with her in part because it removes the notion of something being too challenging. That concept of doubt hasn’t hit a seven-year-old yet – they still think they can do anything! Seeing that and spending time with her brings me joy.
I like biking as well. Minnesota is a beautiful place and enjoying it on a bicycle is a much different experience than driving in your car. On your bike, you get to be part of the landscape and enjoy the beautiful lakes. I’ve done “slow rolls” in the community with groups of 30 or 40 cyclists. It’s amazing to be with so many other folks who are cycling; you get to meet new people and experience the ride together.