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  • Writer's pictureLaurie Frappier

Influential Women in Affordable Housing

Women’s History Month is a time celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States and recognize the specific achievements women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields. Since the Greater Albuquerque Housing Partnership (GAHP) is a housing organization, it goes without saying that we are in awe of the amazing and influential women who have been instrumental in bringing forward affordable and equitable housing options in our country. Today we honor three national powerhouses in affordable housing and two local heroes.

Catherine Bauer Wurster was an architect and passionate leader in the fight for affordable housing for low-income families. A student of French social housing, she dramatically changed social housing practice and law in the United States. Her 1934 book, Modern Housing, is widely acknowledged as one of the most important books on housing of the twentieth century, introducing the latest developments in European modernist housing to an American audience. She was the primary author of the Housing Act of 1937 and advised five presidents on housing and urban planning strategies. Considering today’s affordable housing emergency, Catherine Bauer’s prescriptions for how to achieve humane and dignified modern housing remain as instructive and urgent as ever.

Patricia Roberts Harris was the first African American woman to serve in a presidential cabinet and the first to be a United States ambassador. From 1977-1979, Harris served as the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and as the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services from 1979-1981 under Jimmy Carter. Harris was a graduate of Howard University, received her master’s degree from American University, and earned her J.D. from George Washington University National Law Center. As HUD Secretary, Harris focused on reorganizing the department and shifted the focus from knocking down slums to rehabilitating neighborhoods and luring businesses back into cities. She is noted for transforming the agency from a mere extension of the nation's housing industry to an advocate for saving inner cities.

Diane Yentel is president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). Yentel and the NLICH promote racially and socially equitable public policy to ensure that people with the lowest incomes have quality homes that are accessible and affordable in communities of their choice. With over twenty-five years of experience working on affordable housing, Diane is a leading national expert on housing insecurity and homelessness. Her housing and policy experience includes public policy at Enterprise Community Partners, the Public Housing Management and Occupancy Division at the Department of HUD, Oxfam America, the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, and as a volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps. For Yentel,

“Everything comes back to housing,” as she explains in a 2022 interview, “your health, your ability to complete your education, your ability to keep a job.”

Miriam Hicks, RA is a licensed architect and GAHP’s Director of Housing Development. Her passion for affordable housing brought her to GAHP after more than 20 years working for a local architecture firm. Hicks is tenacious in her efforts to bring the organization’s affordable housing communities to fruition, overseeing development from site selection to design and construction and beyond. Besides her work at GAHP, Hicks is deeply involved in the Albuquerque Affordable Housing Coalition and is on their executive committee alongside local housing advocate Anita Córdova and UNM professor and author, Reina Ehrenfeucht. With their leadership, the group raises awareness and advocates for funding and public policy that preserves and increases quality, affordable housing for the Albuquerque area. Hicks is a regular presenter at housing events such as the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority Housing Summit and has met with state and local officials to promote the need for affordable housing in New Mexico. She also serves on the equity council at Alice King Charter School. Hicks’ passion for affordable housing and housing justice inspires her efforts - she believes that everyone deserves access to a safe, affordable home of their choice, that housing is foundational to people’s lives.

Lisa McNiven is truly an unsung local hero. Her efforts to bring about affordable housing for the Deaf community has been a labor of love and a nearly 30-year journey. A graduate of Gallaudet University and with a master’s in public administration from UNM, McNiven is the deputy director for the NM Governor’s Commission on Disability, a state agency that manages programs related to accessibility and advocacy for persons with disabilities. As a volunteer for the Deaf Culture Center of New Mexico (DCCNM), McNiven serves as their chair of the building project that worked to raise funds, find a developer, and obtain support from the community towards building an accessible, affordable apartment community for the Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard-of-Hearing. Working with her other committee members, McNiven has been the voice of the DCCNM and primary liaison with the Greater Albuquerque Housing Partnership to bring about Albuquerque’s first housing community for the Deaf community. After 30 years, this groundbreaking development (PAH! Hiland Plaza) is finally becoming a reality due to the tireless efforts of McNiven and the committed group of volunteers with whom she serves.

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