New Housing CEO | Richmond Free Press
Steven Bernard Nesmith returns to public housing more than 40 years after leaving the Philadelphia projects where he grew up.
Since leaving social housing four decades ago, his journey has been filled with undeniable success.
Now a lawyer and housing and community development expert with a long list of credentials that includes a three-year stint as assistant secretary at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the former college basketball star 6ft 5in American has been tapped to lead Richmond’s public housing operations and spearhead its transformation.
On Monday afternoon, the board of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority voted to install Mr Nesmith as chief executive, ending more than two years of searching for a permanent successor to Damon E. Duncan, left in 2020.
“Our board is thrilled to welcome Steven,” current chair Brett Hardiman said in the announcement. “He has a breadth and depth of knowledge that, combined with his passion and experience, will enable RRHA to strengthen its commitment to our residents and re-establish itself as a leader in creating affordable housing.”
Now busy shutting down the housing policy firm he has run in Northern Virginia since 2016, Nesmith will succeed acting chief executive Sheila Hill-Christian, whose firm, Fahrenheit Advisors, led the recruitment search of executives who brought him to the attention of the board.
He is due to take the helm of the RRHA on Oct. 1, where he will oversee an agency with an annual budget of $90 million and 233 employees. The agency’s portfolio also includes more than 3,100 apartments, mainly located in six large complexes.
A board member said he would start with a salary of $250,000 a year, a high amount for the authority, but a pay cut for him.
Yet Mr. Nesmith, who has known poverty and prosperity, sees the position of RRHA as a dream job.
Reached at his company’s office in Fairfax County, he described his new role as an opportunity to use his experience and knowledge to impact the lives of people and children who look like him and live in similar circumstances. than before.
He told a US Senate committee reviewing his confirmation for HUD deputy secretary that he had been “a so-called ‘at-risk child’ in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ghetto, whom I’m sure many could not never imagined that I could sit here.”
Mr. Nesmith said his goal is also to restore the RRHA as a leading force in housing and economic development. He said that it is not enough to develop housing.
He said the whole program must include economic development so residents can get the jobs they need to afford to rent or buy.
Mr Nesmith said he was already getting calls from people wanting to join the management team he plans to build to help him realize his vision for RRHA, one of the largest public housing operations in the city. mid-Atlantic region.
And, although he said he had had the opportunity to lead a public housing authority before, until now “the time was never right”.
Now with his son at Cornell University and his daughter at Virginia Tech and with the support of his wife, Christelle, he said he was finally at 60 ready to change careers.
A former partner at several prestigious business law firms where he specialized in housing and development issues, Mr. Nesmith has spent the past six years at the helm of Capital Mortgage and Financial Services LLC.
It is a boutique lobbying firm he founded to provide political, legal and government relations services to mortgage companies, title companies, banks, home builders, trade associations and to non-profit housing organizations such as the Center for Responsible Lending.
City Council Vice-President Ellen F. Robertson, a former leader of a non-profit housing organization in Richmond that helped rebuild Highland Park, called Mr Nesmith’s resume ‘impressive’ and noted his “great relationship with HUD.”
Basketball and college were his tickets to a better life. Awarded a full athletic scholarship by American, he played for four years before graduating, becoming team captain and winning a recognition award in 1985 for his play from the Washington Metropolitan Basketball Hall of Fame.
After playing professional football overseas for several seasons, he returned to enroll at Georgetown University Law School, where he served one term as student bar president before earning his diploma.
He worked for a judge, then joined the Philadelphia city government.
He came to the attention of then-President Bill Clinton’s administration after leading the restructuring of the city’s Empowerment Area agency, and was hired in 1999 to serve as assistant secretary deputy of the United States Department of Commerce where he oversaw the administration of Economic Development and its $1.5. billion development portfolio.
After George W. Bush was elected president, Mr. Nesmith, who had won accolades for his ability to work with diverse groups and across political lines, was appointed to his HUD post to serve as the agency’s liaison. with Congress as well as other federal agencies, state and local governments, real estate developers, and nonprofit organizations. He said he then studied the risks and benefits of developing affordable housing.
After leaving government, he spent the next few years in law firms and financial services companies. In one firm, he helped corporate clients gain government support to recover from the Great Recession. At another, he was tasked with turning around a title company that had fallen on hard times.
He also helped set up a financial services practice at an international law firm and helped another financial services company grow its mortgage portfolio before founding Capital Mortgage.
The depth and breadth of his experience in housing, politics and development seems to eclipse that of any previous CEO over the past 30 years.
“I think we’ve picked a real winner,” said RRHA board member William E. Johnson Jr.. “I hope Richmond will welcome him and work with him.”
Mr. Nesmith, himself, admires Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s vision for boosting affordable housing.
His remarks to the Republican-led Senate committee that would support his confirmation made clear his interest in a collaborative and inclusive approach and in ensuring the participation of all who have an interest.
“I recognize that there will be challenges for us,” he said then, “whether it’s a specific program at HUD or issues facing the housing community in the sense of Nevertheless, I think we need to approach these issues in a bipartisan way in order to find long-term solutions.