Q&A with Felicia Tripp, Deputy Director, Portland Housing Center
The Portland Housing Center's mission: to make homeownership accessible to everyon through quality education, counseling and financial services. The agency receives its funding from a combination of associations, government, private foundations and local lending institutions.
The Portland Housing Center is one of 230 organizations in theNeighborWorks network, which provides access to operating and capital grants, technical assistance, and extensive staff and board training. NeighborWorks Network was created when the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation was established by Congress in 1974 to revitalize communities.
The Portland Housing Center is part of the NeighborWorks Homeownership Center initiative and ranked among the top 20 centers in "producing" new homeowners.
In a Q&A with Colors of Influence, Deputy Director Felicia Tripp talks about the committed group of people that make the work of the Portland Housing Center possible.
What is your primary charge at the Portland Housing Center? As deputy director, I run the operational structure of the Portland Housing Center, which makes homeownership possible through quality education, counseling and financial services. My primary charge is hiring and retention, and I also work with managers to oversee our budget, programs and service delivery. I also work on building community partnerships and collaborations.
Before joining the Portland Housing Center, I had served as an executive director of the local Emergence Foundation, an agency helped single moms to transition into the work force. It also provide child care subsidies for single mothers – a great organization to work with.
How does your work at the Portland Housing Center impact communities of color? Our agency promotes wealth creation in terms of providing homeownership for all, including people of color. We also provide financial literacy within communities of color: to get people to understand the importance of creating wealth within their own communities.
We’re not a culturally specific agency: we serve all different communities and make sure that we provide culturally competent services.
One of the things I really believe in is empowering young people of color to gain the skills to become managers and leaders. It’s really important that people of color who are in leadership positions helped the next generation. As an agency, we also try to reflect that in our professional development, for example.
How do you ensure that each community receives adequate attention, in terms of services? Providing personalized service is what really allows us to be able to work with all our clients, particularly immigrant populations. We have group classes and individual sessions.
We work with each community in a customized way. The Portland Housing Center was the fiscal agent for the Asian Pacific Islander Community Improvement Association and the Latino Home Initiative. We have volunteered staff time in the past for the African American Alliance for Homeownership and the Native American Homeownership Fair.
What do you like most about the work you do everyday? I like the cultural diversity of the people I work with. We’re really unique as an agency: 2/3 of our staff is people of color, and no one race predominates. Diversity is also reflected on the board.
We have a level of cultural competency that really breaks the stereotype that one cannot find or employ qualified people of color. We really break that mold, because our team is made up of very qualified and highly experienced people at all levels of the agency. In some organizations, people of color occupy front-line positions, but if you look at the management, it’s still very, very white.
I also enjoy being able to work on addressing homeownership issues. It’s rewarding to be able to help people purchase their first home. Last fiscal year, we helped 498 people purchase their first home. This year alone, more than 1,500 people have been through our classes and other services.
Working with a team of people that also likes to help others is a gift. I’m surrounded by people with the same drive and mission.
What were some of the challenges in getting a multicultural team together? I always see challenges as opportunities. The way I approach hiring is that you hire people for their strengths, not their weaknesses. I really try to find people who would not only be very good at doing the job, but would also really love to do the job. People who have a passion for the work we do.
Both of our homebuying specialists are people of color: one is African-American and the other is Latino. They’re amazing. They love counseling and motivating people through the process.
We believe in practicing what we preach when it comes to diversity. Our staff and board to reflect the diversity of communities we serve. We have diversity in age, race and ethnicity, sexual preference, religion and socioeconomic background.
What are some successful strategies you employ to motivate employees? We believe everybody has a voice. We follow a “Communities of Practice” model: everybody’s opinion is valued. We also focus on providing professional development for our staff. Each staff member gets 80 hours of professional development each year.
We also spend a lot of time in cultural awareness: to sharing what we know about what it’s like to work with specific populations. We try to create a workplace that allows people to be open and honest about their ideas and opinions.
360 performance reviews also work very well for our organization. Our staff gets reviewed not only by their managers but by their peers. They also have the opportunity to review their managers. We have staff meetings focused on specific topics to make the best use of everyone’s time.
We have an incentive plan called C-Bucks, short for customer service bucks. Each staff members gets C-bucks (fake bill) where they jot down what another team member has done for them. We have a store where staff can exchange for prizes the C-Bucks they receive from colleagues. It’s fun for staff.
Our agency also participates in Portland State University’s Leadership Fellows Program. We nominate staff members of color who are interested in developing their leadership potential for the program. It’s a great program that is specifically designed to provide tools and training for people of color to become leaders in their communities.
How does your cultural background affect your leadership style? I’m mixed race, of two people of color. My experience is much different from the experience of people whose parents are from the majority and a minority race.
Compared to many single-race folks, I think I cross over to other cultures a little better. Being half-Asian (Korean), half-black and an immigrant gives me a different perspective in how I treat others. I know how it is to be Asian, and I know what it’s like to be African-American as well. I know what it feels like not knowing how to speak English: in an English as a Second Language class with other kids who do not speak your native language. My mixed-race background helps me avoid having stereotypes about certain groups.