ULI New York’s Young Leaders Group recently had the opportunity to hear from Brenda Rosen, CEO of Breaking Ground, about her career path and the organization she has devoted the majority of her professional career to. Having herself come from modest beginnings, Rosen learned firsthand the difference a community can make in some one’s life. At 10 years old Rosen’s family apartment on Roosevelt Island was destroyed in a fire. Had it not been for the local community’s passion and advocacy for the family they too may have ended up homeless.
As a result of her upbringing and experiences, Rosen knew that she wanted to help others the way she had been helped. This led her to complete law school and then joining the City of New York’s Department of Homeless Services. Many of colleagues recognized Rosen’s passion and desire to serve while in her role with the City of New York. That is why she was asked to join what was then Common Ground as Director of their Prince George project in 1999. Rosen has grown within the organization over the years in a number roles, but took up the helm in 2011 as CEO.
Since becoming CEO, Rosen and her staff have continued to expand the focus of the organization to try and accommodate more families and those who need to age in place. One of the key roles as CEO is ensuring funding. Breaking Ground is predominantly funded through tenant and commercial rent, multi-level government funds, and development fees. There is a complex puzzle of backing and advocacy that has to transpire each and every year, and Brenda leads the charge.
One of the innovative lines of business that Breaking Ground has been developing is their partnerships with private, for-profit, developers. Given the vast experience the organization has with tenanting and maintaining affordable housing, Breaking Ground is now able to offer assistance to private developers on a consultancy basis. Many new ‘market’ housing projects are required, or incentivized, to encompass an affordable housing component. Working with the private sector as a consultant has allowed Breaking Ground to secure an additional income stream, and created relationships that may assist them in developing affordable housing at a much faster pace.
Some interesting facts about Breaking Ground and supportive housing that Rosen shared with the group included:
- The average person living on the streets costs society approximately $52,000 per year. Providing housing and critical social services to the average Breaking Ground tenant is only $32,000 per year.
- Breaking ground now has 19 buildings and over 3,500
- They have funded new projects through various models including the sales of air rights on some of their existing projects.
- Breaking Ground has worked with esteemed architects including Robert A.M. Stern and COOKFOX to ensure that their buildings enhance the communities they are in.
- In addition to housing Breaking Ground offers essential on-site support services to help their tenants address the psychosocial, mental, and physical health problems that are obstacles to independent living.
Rosen truly believes in helping others. Her advice to young professionals in the industry:
- Take every opportunity you can to get involved in your broader organization
- Be passionate about where you work and what you do
- Find the right people to work with, and work hard at building the right team
- Do what you can to ensure that everyone on your team knows that they are key to finding solutions