The new head of Minnesota's Housing Finance Agency has spent most of her career finding ways to get affordable housing off the ground.
Mary Tingerthal says she'll focus on the foreclosure crisis in her new job. Advocates say her experience will help her steer the agency through difficult economic times.
Tingerthal will lead an agency with a two-year budget of $1.4 billion, and a mission to preserve, fund and develop affordable housing. The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency helps low- and moderate-income people buy, renovate and rent homes, and works to prevent homelessness and foreclosure across the state.
Tingerthal says she was delighted to be Gov. Mark Dayton's pick to head the agency.
"I started my career at the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and was here for ten years early in my career," Tingerthal said. "And frankly, always dreamed of the chance to come back and head the agency so when I got that opportunity, it was a bit of a dream realized."
Tingerthal is replacing Acting Commissioner Patricia Hippe.
Tingerthal's career includes work in government and in the private and the nonprofit sectors financing single and multifamily housing. She's also been a leader in foreclosure mitigation. In 2008, she created the National Community Stabilization Trust, a nationwide group dedicated to helping local organizations put vacant and foreclosed properties back into use.
The 58 year old St. Paul resident says she'll make reducing the number of foreclosures and limiting the effects of the foreclosure crisis a priority of her new office.
"So that we can get people all moving back into those neighborhoods, get those vacant houses either rehabbed or torn down," she said, "and to do it in a focused way that will restore property values and restore faith in some of those great neighborhoods like North Minneapolis and the East side of St. Paul that have been hit so hard."
Tingerthal said she will fight hard in Washington to bring back federal resources to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure and to stabilize communities. She said she will also work to preserve housing programs at the state Capitol.
Only about 8 percent of Minnesota Housing's budget comes from the state. The agency also gets federal money, and raises much of its budget for projects through bond proceeds and other funds.
Still, the agency is bracing for state cuts.
At an event earlier this week at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Gov. Dayton spoke frankly about the difficult choices he'll be forced to make as he works to eliminate the state's projected $6.2 billion deficit.
"I won't pretend here that even my budget, which is a balance between revenues and spending cuts, is not going to have drastic effects, painful effects, harmful effects," said Dayton. "I hate what I'm having to do. So, I'm not going to sugarcoat it. It's going to be very hard and in some cases, it's probably going to end up looking harder."
Dayton didn't outline specifics but warned the crowd of homeless advocates to be prepared for cuts that could make their jobs, and the lives of the clients they serve, even tougher.
Chip Halbach, director of the Minnesota Housing Partnership said Tingerthal is "the right person at this difficult time."
He said Tingerthal's national network of contacts will help her advocate for Minnesota at the federal level as officials work on revamping federal housing programs.
"She knows how to bring ideas to the insiders in Congress and White House who will be making these decisions on housing programs," Halbach said.
Frank Altman, President and CEO of Community Reinvestment Fund, has worked with Mary Tingerthal for three decades. He said Tingerthal has a knack for innovation. He's hoping she can help prevent across-the-board cuts and instead find places to trim the fat.
"Those skills for innovation and reorganization will be necessary," said Altman. "That means the cuts that the legislature has to make become truly cuts that are related to efficiency, as opposed to related to the core effort of a program or a policy."
The new commissioner has already presented Minnesota Housing's recommendations to the governor as he decides which programs to cut. Among her priorities are minimizing the impact of cuts on the kinds of services that serve the most vulnerable Minnesotans.