New Staff Spotlight: Jen Small, project manager for public housing initiatives
Tell us about your background and why you care about expanding housing opportunities.
From very early in my career I knew I wanted to spend my time and energy on work that tangibly and directly impacted my community. And as someone who was able to pursue my passions in education, be inspired by the arts, and freely develop my unique understanding of the world, I simply think all people in this country should (and can!) have access to those opportunities. I was drawn to work in housing because it is crystal clear that without an affordable, stable home people cannot thrive in other areas of their life. Housing is a human right. And in a country with such incredible wealth and capacity for innovation, I think it’s our shared obligation to rectify the intentional and unjust barriers that have kept so many people from a fair shot at pursuing their own American dream.
Why were you interested in joining the Family Housing Fund?
I learned of the Family Housing Fund back in 2018 when I was moving to Minneapolis and looking for jobs in affordable housing. I remember being particularly excited to see a group that was producing timely, insightful research but also out in the community doing tangible work to improve our housing systems. I was deeply attracted to the entrepreneurial spirit of the organization and its affinity for exploring and advancing big ideas that can make real impact on the region’s housing crisis.
What housing aspirations do you have for the region?
Minnesota has an enduring legacy of prosperity; it is home to world-class education systems, robust job opportunities, and entertainment legends like Price, Bob Dylan, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Judy Garland. The Twin Cities is at the core of that acclaim. My vision for the region is for all people – established leaders of Fortune 500 companies and immigrating refugees alike – to have equitable access to its vibrancy and a fair shot at building their own foundation for success. That means that all people regardless of race, income, identity, or background have equal and fair access to safe and stable housing in the community of their choice.
What is one area where you think people generally fail to think big enough – and what is your vision for change?
The Twin Cities’ housing crisis has endured for decades. And while we have some great tools to create more of the housing we need, existing resources are not enough to address the scale of the crisis. We need creative solutions, and new partners to turn the tide. The background I bring to the FHFund is in development, specifically development of the most deeply affordable rental housing. In that work I saw an incredible interest from not only housing developers and community advocates, but also political and business leaders to solve our housing problem. It’s this unprecedented energy around housing that I feel can fundamentally change our (in)ability to address the housing crisis. We need to continue adding seats at the table, dreaming up new solutions, and insisting we can in fact realize a new vision for our community.
What do you do for fun?
When I’m not working on creating housing out in the community, you can often find me tinkering with projects around my own home in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. I also love exploring the beauty of the state, watching Wisconsin sports, and finding ways to bring together the people I care for the most.