Senior Vice President, Holsten Real Estate Development Corp. Board Chair, Holsten Human Capital Development, NFP
When I worked in the city’s Building Department, I enjoyed assisting homeowners navigate getting permits. I was even on a team during those deadly heat waves in the ‘90s that helped get people into cooling stations. The days were long, but helping people kept me so pumped up that my only focus was making a difference.
That experience inspired me to go back to school – yes, law school at 40! – so I could touch more lives. I chose Loyola University, not knowing the community would empower me to help more people than I ever imagined. After graduating, I became an assistant commissioner with the Department of Planning and worked on creating real neighborhoods and communities. My team oversaw the UIC south campus expansion, the transformation of Maxwell Street, building in the Illinois Medical District and the beginning of the Plan for Transformation of public housing.
I then joined Holsten Real Estate, a company my husband Peter started in the ‘80s. In the late ‘90s, his company was chosen to redevelop a small portion of Cabrini-Green. What looked like high-rise cages became symbols of everything wrong with public housing.
He and his partner took a seven-acre site, long before the strip malls and big box stores entered the neighborhood, and created a mixed-income community with a mixture of coach houses, condos, apartments and townhouses. Market-rate and affordable renters/owners lived next door to public housing renters, resulting in a diverse community where everyone had a home they could be proud of. Following that same model, we now have 14 developments, each with its own personality.
Our ‘community’ is strengthened by our social service commitment. Once a division, now Holsten Human Capital Development is a not-for-profit that serves our public housing tenants and any member of our communities that needs help.
Many people have misconceptions about residents in public or affordable housing. They envision a stereotypical single mother with kids living off the system. That’s so far from the truth. Most of our residents are hard-working people – maybe just out of college, driving a cab, a retired senior citizen or even a Vet. They just happen to have a modest income.
When someone moves into any of our properties, we don’t just hand over the keys and say, “Good luck.” We become partners in building a new community. Maybe a single man never learned how to clean a kitchen – we’ll show him how. Maybe a married mom needs a job, but she’s never worked before. We might assist her in getting her GED, writing her résumé or preparing for job interviews. Holsten isn’t just about the buildings; it’s about the people. I’ve found my niche – give back every day, so it doesn’t feel like work.