Audra Hamernik is President and CEO of Nevada HAND, the state’s leading provider of affordable housing with approximately 4,700 affordable units serving more than 8,000 families and seniors.
She joined the nonprofit in 2019 after serving as executive director of the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA), where she oversaw the allocation of Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) and other key funding for expand housing opportunities throughout the state.
The industry veteran shares her journey in the industry and what she’s working on next.
What was your first job and what did that job teach you?
In 1994, I was grateful that DuPage County, Illinois hired me as an intern in the planning department. These were the days when we were required to wear skirts, tights and closed shoes. My boss, Deborah Fagan, was a very experienced urban planner and very patient with me. She had just graduated me with my master’s degree and she had great ideas about what planners did at work, when she really needed me to measure bike lanes, pour maps from plan books and write. Nearly 30 years later, our daughter (a college freshman) received a care package from Deborah Fagan. So what have I learned about work? It’s about how we treat each other. I love being a part of our nation’s affordable housing industry. We are a group of housing professionals who care about good planning, finance and development. We help many low-income households and communities. We also care about each other. I frequently call many of you with questions and interpretations. Never once has someone not been kind enough to help me think through a problem.
What was your first job related to housing and what did that job teach you?
My first job related to housing was in Wheaton, Illinois, where I was a Senior Planner with the DuPage County Development Department. This job taught me the importance of fully understanding the wide range of federal, state, and local regulations, including building codes, environmental laws, land use regulations, and impact fees. My love of standards gave me the technical and procedural knowledge to approach problems with a degree of creativity.
What was a turning point in your career?
Earlier this year, I testified before the US Congressional Committee on Ways and Means. Having the opportunity to advocate for the advancement of affordable housing solutions was an honor.
How was the change from running a state housing finance agency to leading a non-profit housing developer?
Frankly, the change has been a lot of fun. When I was the executive director of IHDA, we were responsible for managing the affordable housing and community development programs. Leading a non-profit organization now, I have the opportunity to read and understand the Qualified Allocation Plan from a developer’s perspective. At Nevada HAND, we have our own construction company and property management firm. Through our work, we are proud to provide high-quality affordable housing and on-site resident services to more than 8,000 low-income families and seniors.
Share an interesting fact or stat about housing in Las Vegas or Nevada.
Here are three interesting facts and statistics about Las Vegas and Nevada. (1) The federal government controls more than 80% of the land in Nevada, more than in any other state; (2) Nevada was the fifth fastest growing state over the last decade, but the state has the greatest need for affordable housing in the country; and (3) the famous Las Vegas Strip is not within the city limits of Las Vegas. The Strip actually falls under the jurisdiction of Clark County.
Tell us about a development you are working on.
Nevada HAND has more than 700 units of high-quality affordable housing under construction. One of these developments, Decatur Commons, is a 480-unit development located in Las Vegas; 240 units will be garden-style apartments for individuals and families with children. Amenities for the family part include a clubhouse building and outdoor pool, computer lab, library, community room with kitchen, playground, dog park, basketball court and a grass field. The remaining 240 units will house low-income seniors. The community is a mixed-use development that will also have approximately 10,000 square feet of retail space. Amenities for seniors include a swimming pool, fitness center, computer lab, library, and community room with a kitchen.
What move has Nevada Hand made to handle rising construction costs?
Rising construction costs are a challenge facing developers across the country. For market rate apartment developers, this often leads to higher rents. For affordable housing developers like Nevada HAND, our focus is on finding gap financing in order to get a project to the finish line. Mitigating the risks that come with rising construction costs is challenging, and the unfortunate reality is that it comes at a time when there is a desperate need to increase the national supply of affordable housing.
What policy change would you like to see?
There is a large and growing demand for affordable housing. Across the country, more than 10 million low-income households spend more than half of their monthly income on rent, cutting other essential expenses like child care, medicine, groceries and transportation. The LIHTC is our nation’s leading tool for creating and preserving affordable rental housing. Virtually no new affordable rental housing can be built without the housing loan because it is financially infeasible to do so. The housing credit is limited by the amount of credit available, and Congress must expand and strengthen the housing credit to provide more affordable housing across the country.
What do you think will be the next big trend or evolution in affordable housing?
The trend I hope to see in the affordable housing industry is the message about what makes affordable housing possible. There’s no magic to these deals: housing trends come and go, but in the United States, the most important factor in building affordable housing is financing.
Tacos or burritos?
What’s next for Audra Hamernik?
I am 100% focused on the essential work we do at Nevada HAND. As Nevada’s largest affordable housing developer, the word “community” is at the core of why we’ve worked tirelessly for the past 30 years. I continue to feel inspired and excited about where we will be in the next 10 years: increasing our impact by growing our portfolio and building responsibly as quickly as possible.