Celebrating Tory - Creator of the Impact Investment Fund
Describe your role at Bellwether.
I was a housing developer from 1997 to 2003 and Deputy Director / COO from 2009 to 2016.
I first joined Bellwether in 1997, when I moved back to Seattle from Washington, DC, where I had been developing affordable housing since 1991. I had been in touch with Executive Director Nancy Smith, and when I was exploring positions back in Seattle, she let me know that she and Sarah Lewontin could probably use some more help on the housing development front. So, with a newborn and a toddler at home, I took a “part time” job as a project manager, working with Nancy, Sarah and Vaughn McLeod on our development deals. The construction of Tate Mason was underway at the time and my introductory project was to refinance a buildings. For me the real thrill over those subsequent years was developing two new downtown buildings, Stewart Court and the Gilmore.
After the completion of the Gilmore, I left Bellwether to do some independent project consulting and then spent the next five years in executive positions with private companies focused on workforce housing development. In 2008 then-Executive Director, Sarah Lewontin, asked me to return as Deputy Director following Lee Murray’s retirement. In that role I led the real estate development group and directed internal operations, allowing Sarah to focus on the outward-facing roles of the CEO. During that time we rebranded the organization and were making structural changes to enable healthy growth and build greater development capacity. As we were contemplating bigger organizational changes, I was able to entice Susan Boyd, formerly our housing attorney but recently back from a year’s sabbatical, to join Bellwether as Director of Real Estate Development. Susan was obviously a pivotal addition to the team. That new leadership in development allowed me to focus more broadly on the operational structure, financial health and strategic initiatives of the organization. Those years of close collaboration with a dynamic Leadership Team on the evolution of the organization were extremely satisfying.
My last big project at Bellwether was creating and launching the Bellwether Impact Investment program, which exemplified the willingness of the organization to try a new approach to address a long-standing challenge—in that case the shortage of gap funding for our new housing developments.
What did you find most meaningful about your work?
I found meaning and satisfaction from quite different things over the course of my time and several roles at Bellwether. I was initially drawn to affordable housing development because I saw it as core to developing vibrant urban communities for all. I had studied architecture and later finance, and I just loved managing all the complex moving parts of a new development. Though my work was mostly done before people started moving in, at each stage of design and construction I could picture the spaces and imagine the thrill of moving into that fresh new building myself, happy to think of all the people that would enjoy that comfort of home over time.
In my later leadership roles at Bellwether, I had a broader view on the magnitude of our impact: all of the lives touched by living in our housing over the long arc of Bellwether ownership, and the magnifying impacts as we increased our development capacity and buildings under management. I found real satisfaction in making the incremental adjustments within the organization to strengthen our position—financially, culturally and organizationally—and then investing in changes that I knew would grow future impact. That vision was very gratifying: that the impact of what I was doing in the moment would get magnified over time and the benefits would accrue to people yet to move into Bellwether housing yet to be built.
Tell us about a woman that you admire or are inspired by (can be past or present).
I feel like my life path has been influenced by a succession of impressive women around me, significant among them those that I have worked with at Bellwether. At times when I was making formative decisions, I was fortunate to intersect with strong women exemplifying values-driven lives and that made all the difference. Had my college roommates not been social justice leaders, would I have focused on the impact of housing in society? Had I not worked with Virginia Anderson and other powerful women in Seattle real estate development early in my career, would I have pursued housing development? If Nancy Smith hadn’t shown me the exciting developments that Bellwether was doing back in Seattle, would I have stayed in the non-profit housing field when I left DC? All along the way I have been fortunate to have had the counsel and partnership of smart, bold, committed women whose values I share. Frankly, the best work I’ve seen in housing around the country has been driven by organizations led by these kinds of women.
What Colleagues Say:
“Tory was the concept-creator, the spreadsheet analyzer, the pitch-maker and the functional organizer for Bellwether’s impact investment strategy and implementation – an approach to funding affordable housing that really put Bellwether on the map. And Bellwether’s impact investment fund has been the inspiration for funds such as the Microsoft affordable housing fund, the Seattle Foundation’s Evergreen Fund (for which Tory is the lead consultant) and the Amazon Housing Equity Fund, which have brought BILLIONS of corporate dollars into affordable housing in the Pacific Northwest.”