Q&A with Tatiana Blank, Eden Housing Chief Financial Officer
November 2, 2023
Eden Housing’s CFO Tatiana Blank was recently honored as a finalist in the San Francisco Business Times’ annual “CFO of the Year” awards. We feel fortunate to have Tatiana working on behalf of our staff, residents, volunteers and all Eden Housing stakeholders. Tatiana joined Eden in February 2016 as Vice President of Asset Management and Portfolio Finance and became CFO in early 2018, where she has made her mark with her steadfast leadership, commitment to our cause, ethical standards and financial acumen. As part of the nomination process, Tatiana shared the following insight with the San Francisco Business Times on her career path, recent successes, the personal and professional reasons affordable housing is so important to her and her vision for the future.
How did you first become aware of Eden Housing?
Prior to joining Eden, I worked with a for-profit affordable housing developer and first became aware of Eden Housing when we partnered to develop several affordable properties in Santa Clara County. I was impressed by the organization’s flexibility and willingness to work together on complex issues and its tenacity in working through challenges to see the projects come to fruition. As I learned more about Eden through conversations with industry peers or at conferences, that determination and dedication continued to stand out to me. I got to know more about how Eden in general, and Linda Mandolini (Eden’s CEO) in particular, work to advocate for more funding to build much-needed affordable housing and how they are committed to advocate for changes in federal and state laws and regulations to restructure and infuse resources into existing affordable housing portfolios. That, coupled with a long history of deeply mission-focused work, is very appealing to me.
You came to the organization with extensive experience in real estate and affordable housing. What drew you to this field initially?
On a professional level, initially it just happened – my first job after college was at a public accounting firm, Novogradac & Company, which specializes in working with affordable housing developers that finance their properties with Section 42 tax credits. I was really attracted to the puzzle-like aspect of putting together this type of financing (I love solving puzzles!). I worked with many smart, talented, passionate people there and learned a ton about real estate and tax credit finance and accounting, and I continued to apply that knowledge throughout my career to solve other affordable housing finance puzzles.
On a personal level, my interest stems from when my family came to the Bay Area in 1991 as refugees from Ukraine right after the collapse of the Soviet Union. When we first moved here, my whole family, including my sister, our parents and grandparents, all lived together in a small rental apartment in San Francisco. Once we got a little bit oriented, I remember regularly taking a Muni bus with my grandparents to help them get on waiting lists for various affordable senior apartment buildings in San Francisco, hoping they would be selected and would be able to afford to live on their own. We waited for a few years until their turn came, and they moved to a place called 711 Eddy, where they lived for over 15 years until they passed. At 711 Eddy, they made many friends and participated in a wide variety of social activities—lectures about art and music, concerts, English and computer classes, and holiday celebrations.
Today my office is located on the ground floor of a building much like how I remember 711 Eddy, which Eden Housing built in Hayward, just across a bridge from where my grandparents spent most of their life in the United States. I am able to see seniors just like them enjoying living their life independently as they participate in a variety of social programs, including gardening outside. Seeing them while I’m at the office reminds me of my grandparents, and it all comes full circle.
The pandemic was a challenge not just for Eden as an organization but for its residents as well. How did you and your team work to help residents during this time?
During the first few weeks of the lockdown, we focused on the employees and the organization to ensure that we were financially sound and able to withstand any unexpected events, such as tenants not being able to pay rent. Throughout this time, we stayed very focused on the mission of Eden and on our customer – the resident. As a member of the executive team and working with our extended leadership team, we tried to address both the immediate and longer-term needs of the residents who live in our communities.
To make sure kids and adults had the technology they needed to work or study remotely, we quickly deployed a device lending library for tablets and laptops and focused on providing or upgrading WiFi in the common areas. To lessen the isolation that our seniors were likely to feel during the lockdown, we implemented regular remote check-ins with all of our tenants. We also thought about what else our seniors may need and strengthened our partnership with organizations providing fresh grocery deliveries so they could have a safe contactless way to receive food. Eden houses a lot of service industry and gig economy workers who lost their jobs in the early days when businesses shut down, and we considered how we could support them beyond just complying with eviction moratoriums. We chose not to increase rents for two years, during 2020 and 2021.
We also advocated on the state level to create a fund to help residents impacted by COVID who were falling behind on rent, and worked with other housing organizations to create what would eventually become the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). Once that program was created, we shifted our resident services and property management staff focus to work tirelessly with the resident to help navigate through this new program. I am particularly proud of this effort because not only was Eden able to help our tenants receive over $5 million in ERAP rental assistance payments, but many more low-income tenants impacted by the COVID-related economic downturn were able to get help.
Eden Housing also created and implemented a strategic plan, which was adopted during the pandemic. The plan highlights our mission of developing and sustaining high-quality affordable housing communities that advance equity and opportunity for all. Our target is to build 10,000 new homes in 10 years, a goal that is well underway.
You’ve led significant growth at Eden, both in terms of the number of units the organization has and in the size of its internal investment fund. What is your approach to leading and managing growth?
Eden has experienced quite a remarkable growth during my tenure here, both in the number of properties we own and manage, as well as our financial capacity/growth of our internal investment fund, which we call Program Fund. My approach, which is shared by our leadership, is conservative, measured growth. We’ve been in business for 55 years, and I’m setting us up for success for the next 55 years. As an executive at a nonprofit organization, my primary responsibility is to build a very strong financial foundation for sustainable growth and to safeguard our assets (our affordable housing properties) so that they can continue to serve our 22,000+ residents by providing them with a safe, high-quality place to call home. That’s my North Star, and I run all my decisions through that lens. We can be disruptors on the advocacy side, but on the financial side, I believe that a measured, conservative approach is what allows Eden to change our world, one corner at a time.
Why do you choose to volunteer on the Strength Matters Advisory Committee?
Strength Matters is a unique organization that embodies many things I really enjoy about the nonprofit affordable housing industry. It is a best practices, information, and peer exchange forum for financial executives, primarily CFOs, in our industry, with a stated mission to serve as a trusted information resource to help nonprofit housing enterprises improve their financial strength and gain greater access to capital.
I very much appreciate how most of our peer organizations are so open and willing to share their knowledge. While we may compete to get development deals, when it comes to what really matters–building financial strength, running sustainable organizations and advocating for our residents – we really have a “we’re all in this together” attitude. Participating in the Strength Matters advisory committee allows me to share my expertise and perspective, thus helping shape the organization’s focus and conference agendas. As a result, I hope to help smaller, younger nonprofits build their financial expertise and strength with the aim to realize their mission.
What is your vision for the affordable housing industry?
At Eden we have one overarching vision: for all Californians to have safe, decent, affordable housing. We know this is essential to everyday life and future success, and it should be a goal for everyone in the state who wants their neighbors to flourish. However, we know that takes resources, which are in short supply, particularly here in California. That’s why my personal vision, based on my role at Eden, is to continue to work with all the stakeholders to develop streamlined, innovative approaches to financing the development of new affordable housing projects. Together, I know we can come up with solutions that will expedite the process and make it less expensive and faster to build the housing that so many Californians desperately need.