Noni Ramos has some pretty big shoes to fill — and that may be the least of the challenges facing her.
Ramos is the new CEO of Housing Trust Silicon Valley. She replaces longtime head Kevin Zwick, who helped the organization grow tenfold from a shoestring operation to a major player in providing affordable housing in the area and one of the largest affordable housing trusts in the nation. But she’s taking the reins as the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the South Bay’s housing crisis and amid a renewed focus on addressing systemic racism and other inequalities.
In an interview with San José Spotlight, Ramos said she’s up for the challenge.
“This is a moment in time I don’t know any of us could have anticipated or expected, but it’s an opportunity to really bring and shed light to those disparities and how we can bring our work to alleviate and address some of them,” Ramos said. “It’s a calling for me. You’ll hear people talking about their calling — this is definitely the type of work I wanted to dedicate my life to.”
Ramos said her priorities for Housing Trust include carrying out the organization’s long-term strategic plan to combat the region’s housing crisis, coordinating resources for communities of color and underserved communities and creating and fostering new partnerships with other funders and housing developers.
“We have some hefty goals as an organization in the strategic plan,” she said.
Part of those goals includes expanding the reach of affordable housing funds across the Bay Area and advocating for the “missing middle” class of homeowners — residents who earn between 60% to 120% of the area’s median income, which is too much to qualify for many housing assistance programs but too little to rent or own a home in Silicon Valley.
In its 20-year history, Housing Trust has helped preserve or create more than 20,000 residential units in the Bay Area. It has invested millions in affordable housing projects across the region, including more than $73 million to multifamily developers for low-income housing around the Bay Area in 2019, according to the organization’s annual report. That included a $15.9 million loan to San Jose-based First Community Housing for 300 new affordable housing units in downtown San Jose.
The nonprofit also helps prospective homebuyers by connecting them with resources such as the county’s homebuyers assistance program, advocating for accessory dwelling units, connecting buyers with lenders and real estate agents and facilitating grants for first-time homebuyers.
Ramos is a graduate of the Walter Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and holds a master’s in public administration from California State University, East Bay. She is the former senior vice president and COO of Enterprise Community Loan Fund, Inc., a San Francisco-based affordable housing policy group.
At Enterprise, she oversaw lending, portfolio and risk management, finance and administration functions.
“Noni brings a wealth of experience in the community development financial institution and lending community, after having spent more than 25 years building relationships in the Bay Area and nationally,” said Craig Robinson, Housing Trust’s board chair, in a statement.
In March, Cupertino-based tech giant Apple granted the Housing Trust $150 million to use for low-interest loans for hard-to-fund affordable housing developments. Other Bay Area tech companies, such as Cisco, LinkedIn, NetApp and Google, have contributed to the Housing Trust’s TECH Fund, which has raised more than $117.5 million to help create 3,728 homes across 34 developments since 2017.
The conversation around affordable housing has become more important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as some unemployed tenants struggle to keep up with rent and the state looks to house people displaced during the pandemic. Ramos acknowledged that communities of color have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and are at higher risk of losing their homes.
She hopes to bring more housing resources to communities she believes have been underrepresented “for many, many years.”
“Our role focuses on impact and ensuring that communities have more access to housing,” she said, “And that the affordability of that housing is something that households can attain, and ensuring we’re doing that in a way that is sensitive and reflective of the diversity of the communities that we serve.”