Written by The Business Journal Staff
Preston Prince, CEO/Executive Director
Fresno Housing Authority
What we do: The Fresno Housing Authority provides housing and housing assistance for over 16,000 families in Fresno County.
Education: B.A. in liberal arts from Eugene Lang College and Master of Arts in urban affairs and policy analysis from the New School for Public Engagement, both part of the New School University in New York City.
Age: Turning 49 in 2013, staring down “The Big Five Oh”.
Family: Wife, Jeannine, of 27 years. She is a teacher at Caruthers High School. “Go Blue Raiders.” No kids, but a very spoiled French Bulldog named Nicely Nicely Johnson.
What are your primary responsibilities as CEO/Executive Director, Prince?
The Boards of Commissioners — there are 14 commissioners, with seven representing the City and seven representing the County –— set the vision for the agency. I see my primary responsibility is to make sure that the Commissioners have the information they need to make key policy decisions. My second responsibility is to work closely with locally elected officials, particularly the Mayor, Fresno City Council members and the Fresno County Board of Supervisors — to ensure that the programs and policies being implemented by the Fresno Housing Authority help meet the mission that they have set forth. My third major responsibility is to foster partnerships with important community organizations — including Fresno Unified School District, EOC, Workforce Investment Board and First Five Fresno County, to name but a few — that help us implement programs in a way that lead to healthy and vibrant neighborhoods. And my fourth is to ensure that the Fresno Housing Authority has the financial systems and personnel to successfully manage our programs.
What are some of the challenges your organization faces each year, Prince?
The first challenge is our dependence on federal dollars, that is even more challenging considering the pending fiscal cliff. Our agency will receive about $100 million in federal funds in 2012, down about $10 million from 2010. If we go over the fiscal cliff, we will receive a reduction of an additional $8 million. Therefore, we have two strategies to address this challenge. The first is to create a sustainable financial model that is less dependent on federal dollars. Translated, that means creating assets that produce cash flow that can be put towards our core mission of serving extremely low-income families in Fresno County. The second strategy is to prove that we have relevance, so that taxpayers continue to allocate very limited resources towards our programs. Proving relevance starts with showing the great outcomes that we have already, but also creating new initiatives that allow for our families to make strides in their lives that engender taxpayer support for our work.
How has the Housing Authority changed during the time that you’ve been involved with it, Prince?
I would point to three changes that we have gone through here over the last five years that are very significant. First, we have changed our corporate culture, moving from compliance as our primary focus to becoming more entrepreneurial and customer-service driven. Second, we have elevated our role in addressing the epidemic of homelessness. We recognize that in partnership with the City, the County, faith-based community members, and service agencies, we must take a more active leadership role in providing permanent supportive housing using the “Housing First” model. And we have done that — celebrating the opening of Renaissance at Santa Clara on Monday. Our third change is coming clearer now that RDAs have been eliminated. In places like Firebaugh and downtown Fresno, we are actively developing housing that fills the void. We are bringing our expertise and knowledge to address issues of revitalization.
What do you see in the future for the Fresno Housing Authority as a whole, Prince?
We recently completed a strategic planning process. We see a future where neighborhoods are vibrant because they possess housing opportunities of all types, and for all income levels. We will focus on addressing poverty, ending homelessness and creating educational opportunities for parents and children.
Do you have a favorite quotation, Prince?
I recently read a great book “So Rich, So Poor” by Peter Edelman. First, he said, “Beginning with the Bible and continuing through history, there has been an instinctive belief among some that the poor have no one to blame but themselves. … we have a mythology that one makes it (or doesn’t) on his or her own.” I think this is so true and that we need to address this mythology, recognizing both individual accountability and community responsibility play important roles in addressing poverty. He also wrote, “We are a society of dichotomies: of gated communities and ghastly ghettoes; of yachts and people with no buoys at all; of private jets and children whose wings are clipped early, long before they could even consider flying. We need a more honest and more candid discussion, and we need it sooner rather than later.” It is time to have that very difficult conversation in Fresno — dubbed “The tale of two cities” by Mayor Autry.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it, Prince?
My first job was being a “sub-contractor” to my brother on his paper route. This meant I had the part of the route with the steepest hills and my brother kept half without doing any of the work. It taught me that I am not a good capitalist and that fair work conditions are important to me. My first real job was with Common Ground, a nonprofit development company in Seattle. At Common Ground, I learned real estate development, which is the foundation of what I do at the Fresno Housing Authority. I learned the importance of design, how to leverage private investment, that housing is a component of a healthy neighborhood and the obligation to be a good steward of public funds and trust.
What do you like to do in your spare time, Prince?
I hang out with Jeannine, my wife of 27 years, and Nicely, our dog. I golf at Sunnyside, run marathons (25 in the last 5 years) and root for the UCLA Bruins.