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Former Congressional candidate to lead affordable housing developer

December 19, 2016

Rosalie Murphy , The Desert Sun 6 a.m. PST December 19, 2016

Esteban Gutierrez and his wife Margarita Valente will finally reach their "American Dream" of owning a home with the help of the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition. (Photo: J. Omar Ornelas/The Desert Sun )Buy Photo

The Coachella Valley Housing Coalition, the desert's largest affordable housing developer — and one of its largest developers of any kind, having built more than 4,000 housing units in the region — has tapped a longtime public servant as its next executive director.

Julie Bornstein, who challenged U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack for her seat in Congress in 2008, has served on the non-profit developer's board since the 1980s. Bornstein was a real estate lawyer when she moved to the desert. In 1989 she was elected to the College of the Desert Board of Trustees and, in 1992, to the California State Assembly, where she rose quickly in the Democratic leadership but lost her bid for re-election. She was later appointed deputy state controller, then directed the Department of Housing and Community Development under former Gov. Gray Davis.

Between stints in Sacramento, Bornstein taught at COD and led the Campaign for Affordable Housing, a national nonprofit that folded after the economic crash of 2008.

PREVIOUSLY: Coachella Valley Housing Coalition founder retires after 34 years

Bornstein spoke to The Desert Sun about her vision for the non-profit developer and the future of affordable housing funding under the incoming Trump administration.

Julie Bornstein, a former California state Assemblymember and one-time Congressional candidate, has been named executive director of the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition. (Photo: Desert Sun file photo)

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you get involved in affordable housing?

I was a real estate lawyer, and this is a real estate company — even though it's a nonprofit, we still have to play by those same rules — so they asked me to come on the board, and I was smitten. I had no idea the industry existed. All my clients had been for-profit developers. I just assumed people of low income had to live in really crummy housing. When I came here and saw the quality of the developments... I was just so impressed. I've tried to stay in this industry ever since. I find it intellectually challenging but also emotionally rewarding.

READ MORE: Program helps Coachella families build their own homes

How has affordable housing changed in the last 30 years? 

The need for affordable housing has grown so exponentially that the resources to help fund long-term, stable, attractive housing just aren't sufficient to meet the demand. One of the biggest funding devices for our projects is the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. We are very good at our applications, we're quite thorough, we're very experienced; (decades ago) we could pretty much always count on being funded once we applied. Now we can't, because the competition for tax credits is so high that maybe only one or two projects even get funded.

And, of course, the cost of developing the projects has gone up as well. So it's tricky. It may take a lot longer for us to get all the funding put together for a project. We usually have anywhere from four to eight funding sources, and they all have different application cycles and application requirements.

INVESTIGATION: Little funding to meet great need for affordable housing

What do you expect for affordable housing under president-elect Donald Trump's administration?

The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit... has been a good, bipartisan program, and we're hoping that it will be preserved and possibly expanded. Mr. Trump has not said anything about it and we do not believe Dr. (Ben) Carson (whom Trump has nominated to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) knows anything about the program. We just don't know, and the uncertainty is difficult. It's caused the price of the tax credits to fall already.

We do use a lot of programs from the Department of Agriculture Rural Housing Service, so we are hoping those programs will be preserved and, again, could be expanded. We're somewhat optimistic in that rural America seems to be the part of the country that gave Mr. Trump his victory, and the needs in rural America are tremendous.

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 (Photo: Richard Lui/The Desert Sun)

What do you hope to continue?

We certainly want to continue our tradition of completing every project that we start. We're not somebody who abandons a project partway through. That means we have to be really careful, really prudent; we need to make sure that we buy our land properly and that we develop it in a prudent and financially sustainable way.

Do you see any shifts in the coalition's focus in the coming years?

We haven't been big players in public policy, in housing policy, and I think we'll probably do a little more of that, because we are governed by policy, whether it's the land-use decisions of local government or whether it's the funding decisions at the state or federal level... when you're trying to affect public policy, the more allies you have, the better off you are, so I think we're probably going to be a little more aggressive in that.

Rosalie Murphy covers real estate and business at The Desert Sun. Reach her at rosalie.murphy@desertsun.com or on Twitter @rozmurph.

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