We periodically spotlight a staff member or partner to help our readers get to know our mission and industry a little better.
This week we interviewed Tami Gardner, Executive Director at Community Outreach Housing (COH), a nonprofit based in Stephenville, Texas that offers quality housing and community service projects to post-secondary, full-time students, low income families, US Veterans, and seniors aging in place. Tami serves in many roles, and she's used TSAHC's programs - including Housing Connection training - to enhance her work and amplify the impact COH makes in its community.
Below is our interview with Tami.
Tell us about yourself and how you were first introduced to the housing world.
It all started in 2013 when a home was donated to us, and we were just trying to figure out how to get involved more in housing, because we saw an overwhelming need. My husband Darrell suggested we start acquiring properties and renting them out. I liked that idea, but I wanted to make sure we did it in a mission-oriented way, so I said let's start a nonprofit, and all of a sudden Community Outreach Housing was born.
We started buying rentals one-by-one, and we also took on a home left by a friend that passed away. Over time, we built up our inventory of homes we could affordably lease out.
You're the Executive Director of Community Outreach Housing. Tell us about the work your organization does in your service region, and expand expand on what you're tasked with doing as Executive Director.
We're primarily involved in rental housing with 22 homes now available for lease. I'm excited to say that we're looking to almost triple that number as we take on our first development which will be a 60-unit workforce housing development that should break ground in January followed by a two-year construction timeline.
We're also looking to expand our service region into Hill County (we're currently active in Erath County). As we look into expanding, we're also committed to providing more affordable homeownership opportunities. As the Executive Director, I'm tasked with seeing both the big picture and tending to the small details.
What is your favorite thing about the work you do?
Definitely critical home repairs and the community service events we finish. Nothing makes me happier than seeing how happy volunteers are helping out and the sheer joy homeowners have when they walk into their newly repaired homes. For many of them, it's a life changing experience.
On a personal level, I have a passion for assisting our elderly neighbors and providing them repairs to allow them to gracefully age in place. This work is also something I can enjoy with my family as my husband and daughter both show up for volunteer events. They provide for some special bonding moments among us.
Are there any unique challenges you face as a rural housing provider?
Funding, funding, funding. I'm sure that's the case for most small nonprofits, but in rural areas, we have limited sources of grant funding available, capital resources, or programs designed to help us build housing in our communities. This has led to a low inventory of affordable and available homes for low and moderate-income residents. There are homes for the higher end of the market, but we're one of the few organizations trying to build homes single-family homes for lower income residents.
Speaking of rural housing, you got to know TSAHC through a Rural Rental Housing Preservation Academy we hosted with Enterprise Community Partners several years ago. What were some of the highlights from that training?
I learned so much from that experience because the training and education provided was exceptional. That's what I appreciate about programming provided by TSAHC -- it's always of the highest quality. As someone who believes that professional development is critical to personal growth and advancing the mission of your organization, I appreciate the caliber of training the rural housing academy provided. It also allowed us to refocus on our why and reinforced how necessary our work was for our community.
What's the best piece of personal or professional advice you've received?
I have this Bumblebee pin that says it "is not supposed to fly, but nobody told him he couldn't." It reminds us to be like the bumblebee and not believe in limitations. Those limitations are commonly only in our mind, may not even exist, or may be imposed upon us by others. When faced with limitations or being told that I can't do something, it just motivates me to try that much harder and get it done.
Looking ahead, what are some near-term and long-term goals for Community Outreach Housing?
Long term COH will be building 60-70 one and two bedroom units as a small neighborhood in rural Whitney, Texas for low and very low-income families and individuals. This neighborhood will be owned and operated by COH staff and will set the organization up for many other development projects in Texas. COH will apply for tax credits and build affordable apartments in 2025 and 2026. Building is all about baby steps that turn into great strides over time.
Short term, we are taking our plans for housing expansion to our Board in January 2023, and we will continue the critical repair service projects COH has scheduled to finish out through 2023. Along the way, we remain committed to serving our current renters with excellence.
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