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  • 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.”

  • Celebrating Nancy! "She has transformed office management’s relationship with employees."

    Describe your role at Bellwether. I view my role as threefold. Starting with ensuring that our staff have a well-cared for space to work and the tools needed to complete their important tasks. The next role is to be consistently available to our residents as a center to respond to questions or requests for assistance in unforeseen situations. The third role includes providing accurate information and giving help navigating the rental process to perspective residents. What do you find most meaningful about your work? Often the smallest heartfelt offer of assistance can help change the lives of others. I find that my days are filled with these opportunities. Tell us about a woman that you admire or are inspired by (past or present). I would like to tell you about my friend SanNi. She went back to school and got her law degree when she was 30. She is now 40, a labor attorney, and recently opened her own law firm. SanNi is a mother of three children, litigators all. Several nonprofits find her organizing for them. It is so easy to admire her endless skills and to be her friend. Her life is messy, she is fearless most of the time, and helping others is what she does. Quote from a colleague: “Since joining us in 2019, Nancy has transformed office management’s relationship with employees. She works diligently in service to them and our residents. She is highly autonomous in her role and leads by example.”

  • Celebrating Rachael! "She consistently leads with compassion and a standard of excellence.”

    Describe your role at Bellwether: I’m the Project Manager for our Compliance and Property Management departments. My team provides training and support to site staff, and I also help maintain compliance with Bellwether’s funders. What do you find most meaningful about your work? In my role I get to look for things that aren’t working and help create solutions. I also collaborate with a lot of great people across different teams. The end goal is always to improve the experience of our applicants, residents, and staff . Tell us about a woman that you admire or are inspired by (past or present). I am a big fan of Eva Walker; she fronts the local band The Black Tones and is also an awesome KEXP DJ. I am grateful for musicians who are finding ways to create and perform when so many crucial resources have been stripped away by the pandemic. Many people (myself included) rely on music now more than ever to bring us joy and connection. What Colleagues Say: “Rachael is arguably the best manager I have ever had the privilege to work for.” “She consistently leads with compassion and a standard of excellence.” “During COVID-19, Rachael was affected more than anyone else on our team (work -life balance wise) She still took the time to listen to us, help problem solve to this new life and be a constant support. She supports our passions and encourages us to lean into where we are naturally inclined.”

  • Celebrating Yvette! "Housing is a human right and more than anything, we are human first."

    Describe your role at Bellwether: I am a Portfolio Manager overseeing the Management of seven properties and one property in development. I am responsible for the hiring of building staff and supervising their performance and development. I develop building budgets and manage the financial performance of my portfolio. I work to ensure that Bellwether’s properties are maintained to high standards, monitoring, and implementing capital repairs and replacements, and preventive maintenance. My team and I ensure that our residents receive excellent customer service while making sure that we are operating in compliance with applicable laws, and in compliance with funder requirements. What do you find most meaningful about your work? Being a part of the solution in a small way and helping families and individuals obtain housing. I believe that housing is a Human Right, and my hope is that everyone be valued and accepted as they are because more than anything else, we are Human first. Tell us about a woman that you admire or are inspired by (past or present). I admire my Grandmother and my Mother most as both inspired me in very different ways. My Mother and Grandmother were in a car accident in early 1954 in which they were hit head on by an oncoming truck somewhere near The Dalles. Both my Grandma and Mother were thrown from the car as my Mother was in my Grandmother’s lap. They both sustained serious injuries. They were transported to then Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Pasco, WA which is where they resided. My Grandmother was almost 26 at the time and my mother was 4-5 months old. My Grandma sustained a crushed pelvis, a broken leg, broken arm and hand, a skull fracture, and a broken neck. My Mother suffered a traumatic head injury. My Mother spent a year in the hospital and celebrated her 1st birthday while there. My Grandmother spent over a year in the hospital having the learn how to walk again. She also had to learn to write again and ended up switching to her left hand from her dominant right hand during this process. She remained a leftie throughout the remainder of her life. With time, hard work, perseverance, and prayer both recovered but both had telltale scars and symptoms for the rest of their lives. My Grandma walked with a slight limp, had a mark in the back of her head where her hair did not grow and had a permanent scar the length of her right upper leg. My Mother suffered from Migraines throughout her life and her skull never fully fused at the top of her head. There were also triumphs. My Grandmother had two more children and my Mother grew up to have four girls of her own. I was inspired by them both as both played huge roles in my life as the oldest daughter and granddaughter. My Grandmother lived a great life for 83 years and my Mother had a shorter one at 62 years but great, nonetheless. When I think of them both, I think how blessed I am to be here because, our story could have ended that day on that highway over 67 years ago. For this, I take nothing for granted and know that with perseverance and hard work, anything is possible. What Colleagues Say: “Yvette is passionate, inspired, determined, responsive and truly wants to see others around her succeed. She is someone I trust and I am forever grateful she is my People Leader, I have gained many skills thanks to Yvette!”

  • Remembering Judy Jack

    In Memoriam of Judy Jack Rental Manager, 1984 - 2004 Judy Jack accepted the challenge of managing Olive Tower when it was in the middle of a full renovation with 50% occupancy - she then took on the Sterling Court, and the John Winthrop, and ended up running the rental office, when we had acquired 4 or 5 more buildings. She loved figuring out which buildings were available, depending on your income, and then matching the applicants desires with the right apartment. She took great pride in being Rental Manager and had a good, intuitive feel about people.

  • Celebrating Zahra! "She leads from her position and would someday be very influential."

    Describe your role at Bellwether. I am a Site Manager. What do you find most meaningful about your work? I find providing affordable housing throughout the city of Seattle very meaningful, as I have personally taken advantage of affordable housing and it tremendously helped me financially. Tell us about a woman that you admire or are inspired by (past or present). I am inspired everyday by many women that surround me in my everyday life, although the woman who inspires me most is my mother Eltifat. Since I was a little girl, I saw her strength and courage to do and be different, despite the norms society has set. Love you mom! Quote from a colleague: “From my first meeting with Zahra, I knew she was someone who leads from her position and someday would be a very influential People Leader. I’ve been inspired by her being a co-chair for the Equity Committee."

  • Celebrating Olexia! "My great grandma has always been the most important person in my life"

    Describe your role at Bellwether. I am part of the Resident Service Coordinator team. We work to provide residents with support and resources to services to ensure stable housing. We coordinate with co-workers and outside providers with the same atmosphere of support. What do you find most meaningful about your work? Connecting to the residents is the most meaningful aspect of my work. The ability to provide additional support and a listening ear bring me great joy. I love hearing about their stories and getting to know them. Tell us about a woman that you admire or are inspired by (past or present). That’s easy, my great grandma has always been the most important person in my life and my role model. Granny was always encouraging and supportive. What Colleagues Say: “Olexia has inspired me in many ways including how she is able to connect to her residents, teammates, and community partners. She demonstrates willingness to jump in and help troubleshoot any situations that arise. Olexia also demonstrates tremendous empathy and vulnerability to those around her including myself, making it really easy to connect to her and share.”

  • Celebrating Mary! "I see myself as part of the solution to homelessness"

    Describe your role at Bellwether: As an Assistant Site Manager, I see myself as being part of the solution to homelessness. I am an advocate for prospects/residents who assists them in navigating the application/certification process as well as providing a safe comfortable home for them. Mary is also the author of The Neteru - How We All Came To Be! What do you find most meaningful about your work? Being there for our residents! I love hearing about their successes and knowing that they can accomplish them because they have a comfortable home to live in. Tell us about a woman that you admire or are inspired by (past or present). There are so many great women that I admire and who inspire me. One of them is Harriet Tubman. Because of her many Black people experienced freedom long before slavery became illegal. She recognized her role and stepped into it unapologetically and with vigor. She inspires me especially when I am in a situation that seems impossible. She made a way when there was no way. If she can find one, especially at that time, then surely, I can. What Colleagues Say: “The recent management transition at [one of our buildings] has not been easy but Mary is always positive, friendly and helpful. She starts everyday with a good attitude and willingness to get the job done.”

  • Celebrating Barbara! "She has an unwavering commitment to an affordable and equitable Seattle."

    Describe your role at Bellwether. I was a board member from 1993 through 1999 and chaired the board in 1998. I have continued to support Bellwether and was one of its first impact investors. What did you find most meaningful about your work? As one of the most successful organizations providing affordable housing in Seattle, we have consistently offered housing for people who work in our city. I am particularly pleased that local companies have supported Bellwether and that they recognized, over forty years ago, that work force housing is essential in a healthy city. Tell us about a woman that you admire or are inspired by (past or present). There are so many! Michelle Obama has been a wonderful role model as a strong, independent leader with a consistent moral voice – “When they go low, we go high”! I also have enormous respect for Nancy Smith who was the CEO of Bellwether for many years. She was a tireless, humble leader who guided the organization from a start-up to one of the largest affordable housing providers in the region. What Colleagues Say: “Barbara has an unwavering commitment to an affordable and equitable Seattle. Her vision and drive have been the impetus to produce hundreds of affordable homes in our community.”

  • Celebrating Tara! "Bellwether residents have taught me a lot about overcoming challenges"

    Describe your role at Bellwether: My role at Bellwether as a Resident Services Coordinator allows me to wear multiple hats. I provide a wide range of resources, referrals, and support to the residents at First & Vine. Equity, accessibility, community partnerships, and resident events are also an essential part of my role. What do you find most meaningful about your work? The residents at First & Vine each have their own voice, perspective, and story that I have been lucky to be a part of throughout my day-to-day work. They have taught me a lot about overcoming challenges, increasing self-sufficiency, and being resourceful. These relationships with residents have become extremely meaningful to me during my four years at Bellwether. Tell us about a woman that you admire or are inspired by (past or present). I’ve always appreciated @MarleeMatlin. Marlee is a tremendous advocate for Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and accessibility. She is an author, actress, and activist. Marlee is the only Deaf performer who has won an Academy Award. I found her to be extremely relatable as I was navigating through my own journey as a deaf individual. What Colleagues Say: “Tara demonstrated strong leadership on two projects with HR in 2020 (and ongoing) – Equity Orientation for New Hires and the Accessible Meetings. She has clearly shown her commitment to equity at Bellwether and her ability to collaborate cross-functionally.”

  • Celebrating Katie! "I find it incredibly meaningful to find new & better ways to live our mission"

    Describe your role at Bellwether: As Director of Information Technology at Bellwether, I am accountable for the sustainable and scalable management of our network, hardware, and software portfolios, our telecommunication, building security and access control products and services, and our managed services providers, contractors, and vendors. I manage a talented team of individuals that provide exemplary customer service, support, and training to our end-users and manage technology-related change initiatives for the agency. I also consider it an integral aspect of my position within the Bellwether Leadership team to challenge and advocate for the strategic cultural values of anti-racism, continuous improvement, impactful change management and centering our customers. What do you find most meaningful about your work? As a professional change agent, I find it incredibly meaningful to help Bellwether find new (and better) ways to live our mission by recognizing the possibilities and seizing the opportunities that change provides. Every day provides new challenges and more opportunity to innovate, which keeps every day exciting and fresh. Tell us about a woman that you admire or are inspired by (past or present). The woman I most admire, was a tireless and skilled worker who showed me the value and deep satisfaction in setting and meeting high standards. She patterned for me, what was possible when you devote your time and energies to people, things, and work of worth. I watched her struggle and succeed, and grew to understand my own capacity to overcome obstacles. She continues to encourage my independence, challenge my intellect, and teach me what it is to truly love. I’m lucky; the woman I most admire is my Mom – Peggy Ross. What Colleagues Say: “Katie has transformed the way we think about and use technology at Bellwether Housing. She also has been a strong advocate for ensuring residents are also served by technology in this ever increasingly digital world.” #WomenofBellwether #WomxnofBellwether #HERStory #womenshistorymonth #womxnshistorymonth #whm #transformthefuture #shapetheworld #womenempowerment #immodestwoman #raisingthebar #feminist #feminism #inspirationalwomen #womeninspiringwomen #strongwomen #BLACKWOMENMATTER #womenarestrong #herstoryourstory #herstorymatters #HerStoryInTheMaking

  • Regarding the US Capitol Attack

    This post is part of our blog series about diversity, equity, and inclusion. These posts are written by staff on our Equity Committee and originally shared internally. We're sharing them publicly to be transparent about our internal dialogue, reflections and learning process as we work on being an anti-racist organization. This statement began as a single Equity Committee member’s opinion, then later became a collaborative document that all committee members have signed onto. Though there are references to the first-person “I,” this statement is one that represents all 9 members. This is a bleak moment in US history. Just over a year since the first COVID death in WA, and now, more than 500,000 people have been killed by the ongoing pandemic, our national capital was attacked by white supremacists, our country’s former president continues to lie about his election loss, and more. It can feel overwhelming to think of all that’s happening right now. I think of how much I’ve driven myself to invest in gardening since March 2020, and how concentrating on digging weeds, hauling mulch, and planting seeds is sometimes the only way I’m able to forget for an hour or two the gnawing fear and unease that I might—in spite of all my caution—bring home the virus to my elderly mother who I live with. Gardening is sometimes the only way I get a break from thinking about how jealous I am of a friend in New Zealand gets to see their friends and family, all without a mask on, because of how effective their society has been in controlling the virus; it’s the only time I forget how angry I am that any politician would suggest an equivalency between an elderly person's life and the country’s economy. And yet, that is where our country is. Underneath all this is the realization that these equivalencies do exist. People cannot get the basic financial help they need, and so they have no choice but to work. And we see the results—the pandemic has hit communities of color, specifically Black, Native American, and Latino communities, far worse than it has hit white folks. An ongoing report from the APM Research Lab found that the COVID-19 mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.1 times higher than for white Americans. Another report, which acknowledged limited data for Indigenous populations, stated that “in New Mexico, which contains portions of the Navajo Nation, the Indigenous mortality rate is eight times as high as the white mortality rate.” Like we are sure many of you are, the Equity Committee has been left reeling in the wake of the Washington DC Capitol attack on January 6th. Our committee members come from different walks of life; we are Black, Muslim, LGBTQ, female, immigrant, raised in low-income families, and more. It is difficult to think about how to write a statement about the Capitol attack and also keep our words apolitical, when many of our committee members saw the Capitol attack as a natural progression of the malice and disgust that has been maintained and even nurtured for years against the various groups we fall into. So, in the face of so much death, inaction, irresponsibility, and murderous intent from white supremacists, we ask you this: What are your values? What are your hopes for your children, extended relatives, or chosen family and friends? What is your positive vision for the future? Think about it, write it down if you want, and look at how you’re living those values, hopes, and positive vision out. And then look at how you’re failing. Because that accountability is missing right now at our national level. That lack of accountability is on blatant display by many politicians and talking heads each time they call for “unity” in the wake of the Capitol attack, yet abdicate responsibility for fomenting this insurrection by giving credence to lies about our election process. That lack of accountability is also demonstrated by our former President, who marshalled the rhetoric of white supremacy for years and continues to enjoy protection by those who agree with his racist ideology, while simultaneously quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. and professing they believe in equality for all. A statement from the Equity Committee cannot fix the fact that white supremacists broke into our nation’s capital, waved a flag of the slaveholding Confederacy around, constructed a gallows with which to murder people, carried makeshift handcuffs through the Capitol, flaunted tattoos and flags and slogans with neo-nazi, KKK, and other hate group associations, and were far from subject to the draconian police responses that Black Lives Matter protestors have experienced. A statement from us should not bring anyone at Bellwether ease or comfort. This kind of ugly display should never be forgotten, and should serve as a reminder why the Black Lives Matter movement is necessary to forge a future for this country where we can truthfully say that Black lives matter to police, to every single one of our politicians, and to all Americans whether they are white or people of color. And when Black lives truly matter to every single person in our country, it will mean that women’s lives matter, the lives of people with disabilities matter, poor people’s lives matter, religious minorities’ lives matter, LGBTQ lives matter, seniors’ lives matter, and that the white, male, able-bodied, homeowning, high-wage earning, heterosexual American is no longer idealized in our country, but regarded as equal to my elderly, homemaking mother with high blood pressure and limited mobility. All our identities and experiences intersect with one another in some way, and we all stand to benefit when Black lives matter. For the Equity Committee, our positive vision for the future is one in which Black and Indigenous lives matter. It’s one in which we honor the original inhabitants of this land, and we acknowledge that this country was quite literally founded on stolen lands and the conquering of many peoples, in thousands of tribes. We believe that in this future when Black and Indigenous lives matter, all lives will matter. Our values are of respect, learning, vulnerability, discussion (even when it’s difficult or you don’t always have the right words!), and accountability. Our hopes for our communities are of housing for those who need it, clean air and water and soil, gainful, stable employment earning a true living wage that will allow people to thrive, and equitable access to healthcare, childcare, and transportation. We also recognize that for each of us to thrive, we need a safe environment, free of bias and oppression. We try and live up to these values in different ways in our work and personal lives, and we fail at them in different ways, too. But in the face of all that’s going on in our country, we do our individual best to keep moving forward, to keep asking questions and to keep on learning, and we invite you to enter more deeply into this journey with us. Signed, The Equity Committee

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