Our members and the families they serve are the heart and soul of NDC. We want you to get to know them better through our spotlight profiles, the first of which shines light on the incredible outgoing Executive Director and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, Heather Lafferty, after 15 years at the helm. We are sad to see her go – both from Habitat and NDC, we celebrate the solutions she has helped lead, and wish her well in her next chapter!
Heather Lafferty, outgoing Executive Director & CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver
Q: What drew you to housing?
Heather: What has drawn me to housing is that it is the base of all of the social issues we face. Having spent my entire career in the nonprofit sector, when I started working in housing it was so clear to me how fundamental housing is. Without solving the housing challenge that so many people and families face, other challenges are magnified – including education, healthcare, food & nutrition, and economic development. I’m particularly interested in the ability to be a part of something that everyone can appreciate the need for, and the ability to be part of an organization and a collective at NDC that is solutions oriented.
Q: What qualities have helped you succeed?
Heather: When faced with a challenge as enormous as the housing crisis, it’s important to have a big, bold solution. We are working up against what many think is nearly impossible, so thinking about how we thread that needle is the challenge and doing it together is part of the solution. Qualities I’ve learned from my peers at NDC that help hold the vision while addressing immediate needs include being visionary, collaborative, resourceful and innovative. Together we must ensure we’re doing this work in a sustainable way, which requires short- and long-term focus.
Q: How has housing changed in metro Denver?
Heather: 20 years ago, people weren’t talking about the need for housing. It was not on the lips of our business leaders or elected officials, and there certainly weren’t any concerted efforts to address housing. What I’ve seen is how that has changed throughout my time with Habitat – everyone is now talking about housing. Everyone is feeling the effects of the housing crisis, whether they have employees, neighbors, children or friends who are suffering and feeling the negative impacts. Housing is now top of mind for pretty much anyone.
Unfortunately, it is the skyrocketing need that has made it something that everyone is talking about. And, the solutions have not gotten any easier during that time. We have never had a moment like this and it’s hard to know how long it will last in terms of the concentration on and the willingness to pursue resources and thought in solving the housing crisis. The trajectory of our work in Denver has been significant – through creating new funding sources, enacting new policies, and raising up the issue of housing to the senior levels of leadership in the city and across the community. I’m really proud that Habitat and I were able to be a part of that.
Q: How was your NDC experience?
Heather: NDC is certainly one of the highlights of my work in housing over the last 15 years, most importantly its collective impact of the members working together. When I first started in the housing sector, it felt competitive and a little bifurcated. However, NDC has been a positive force in bringing housing organizations together so that we can better collaborate and have a bigger vision together about what we accomplish. NDC has experienced the most success as a catalyst for change, and moving policy and advocacy forward. When you look at the diversity of NDC members, we all serve specific purposes along the continuum of housing needs and services. In bringing us together, NDC members were able to use our collective voice to represent the needs of the community with a much bigger megaphone than we could otherwise provide individually.
Q: How has Habitat benefitted from NDC?
Heather: Habitat has benefited from being a part of NDC because it provides us a better understanding of who needs our services, as well as how our work is benefiting the community. A lot of our partner agencies at NDC are serving folks that Habitat may one day serve. By being a part of NDC, we know so much more about what the needs are, and how we can adapt and build capacity to be effective and speedy with lasting solutions. Being a homeownership organization, Habitat’s goal is to produce permanent housing that creates equity, but it’s important for us to understand the larger environment that the housing sector is working within and how we can better serve the needs of our communities, in order to reach our goal – especially for those who have been largely left out of homeownership opportunities.
Last word: Housing is a challenge in every community across the country and around the world. We are not unique here in metro Denver, so we have a lot we can learn from, and we have a lot of spaces we can lead. NDC is well positioned to lead in creating sustainable change and impact.
Collectively, we do have that ability to achieve that vision where everyone has a place to call home. I want to thank my comrades in the housing sector who have given so much of their careers and lives to this work. It is good work. It is the right work. It is worth it.
It really has been an honor to work with the NDC members. I’m inspired by each and every one of them. I learned from this group. My life and my career will forever be changed because of NDC, and for that, I’m grateful.