Taking Stock: 45 Years in Affordable Housing

HousingForward’s outgoing Executive Director Bob Adams reflects on nearly half a century of service in the housing world.

A young man with pale skin, round glasses, and a dark beard sits at a desk in front of brick wall, speaking to someone off-camera. He is wearing a tweed jacket over a button down and tie.
Pictured: Bob Adams circa 1980, during his time at Virginia Housing.

My colleagues remind me, with good reason, that I’ve announced my retirement several times in the last few years. But, I promise, this is the very last time! Over the past several days, I’ve cleaned out my workspace and recycled a lot of paper that I once thought was indispensable… a bad habit of the boomer generation that the planet will be grateful to see disappear.

I‘ve worked in affordable housing since 1976, mostly right here in the Commonwealth. By some measures we’ve had great success. The number of people receiving housing assistance has grown exponentially. We’ve built a durable affordable housing industry. And the homes we’re producing now are higher quality, better designed, and better located than ever before.

Most of us could name a long list of projects and accomplishments—and we should take pride in those. One of my heroes, Cushing Dolbeare, used to tell me: “Celebrate the wins, you’ll need to lean on those next time you get pummeled.” We do need these celebrations, since by other measures, we’ve got a long way to go.

There are still almost a million cost burdened households in the state. Hundreds of thousands of Virginians live in severely deteriorated homes. And we’ve yet to win the hearts and minds of many of our neighbors—NIMBY and exclusionary land use policies remain daunting barriers to progress.

I’ve also worked my whole career in an industry that has been mostly white. Recently—and thankfully—that is starting to change. That trend needs to accelerate. We’re also all aware that the gap between Black and white homeownership rates is shameful and hasn’t narrowed much in recent years.

So there is still so much to do—but there is also reason for real optimism. Never has housing been elevated to the top tier of public policy the way it has today. Never have we enjoyed so much in the way of public and private resources, with the prospect of more in the years ahead.

What else do we need for success?

Talent? Check. The current group of housing practitioners is an awesome improvement over my generation. 😉

Innovation? Check. We’re on the cusp of an era when doing things differently will be the norm. How we build, what we build, how we finance it, how we communicate, how we work—it’s all changing for the better.

Retiring in the era of COVID is certainly not what I had in mind. I’ve spent a lot of my career travelling the state and I thought I might make one last grand circuit to say goodbye to so many dear friends I’ve worked with. I also thought I’d organize a great (in person) gathering of friends and colleagues. That will have to wait, or be smaller and masked! 

I’d be remiss to not mention that this year there is a bumper crop of affordable housing industry retirees here in Virginia. Two of note from opposite ends of the state: Rob Goldsmith from People Inc. in Abingdon and Andy Friedman with the City of Virginia Beach have been colleagues and collaborators for nearly all my career. And Jane Henderson, with Virginia Community Capital here in Richmond, who has been a partner in nonprofit development and a mentor in creative lending for 30 years. 

No doubt, I will miss the challenge and excitement of this work, but I’ve had more than my share of time doing this. I’ll still see some of you in my new role as volunteer. Maybe it’s also time to get the hammer out and help fix someone’s steps myself.

With my departure, I’m happy to report that HousingForward remains in able hands. Stay tuned to this space next week for a message from Erica Sims and Jonathan Knopf, colleagues who our board has tapped to co-lead HousingForward in the years ahead.



Like what you’re reading? Support the work that makes it happen.

The FWD brings you the latest developments in the world of affordable housing, ad-free. HousingForward needs your support to continue providing this valuable service.

Can’t find what you’re looking for?
Contact us for more info.