Beth St. John: Janne is an affordable housing problem solver

I support Janne Flisrand for Ward 7 City Council because she is an innovative thinker with an impressive history of solving complicated problems.

Beth_St._John.jpgI met Janne more than ten years ago while we were both volunteering with the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association (LHNA). Janne was an integral part of transforming the LHNA into a truly inclusive organization that worked to improve our neighborhood for the betterment of all residents, not just homeowners. When Janne chaired the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) committee for LHNA, she figured out a solution to the perplexing question of how to invest our housing funds. LHNA didn't think it made sense to use them for home improvement loans when the majority of Lowry Hill homeowners are able to borrow from traditional lenders.

Caroline Horton, a friend Janne met interning at an affordable housing organization in 2000, summarizes what happened next:

In 2008, Janne called me to talk about the challenge of what exactly to do with a portion of her neighborhood’s NRP funds—$216,000—which by law, had to be spent on housing. We came up with the idea of lending the money to the Nonprofits Assistance Fund (NAF) to finance predevelopment loans to affordable housing developers. These loans are critical to building affordable housing because nonprofits need to pay costs of work that happens before a project is funded, such as working with the designers and neighborhoods, filling out the funding applications, or the right to buy a property. Janne approached Kate Barr, President and CEO of NAF, to ask if they would be interested in partnering.

Kate Barr summarizes how Janne's idea was received:

We were interested. Through this innovative plan, at the end of the loan period, the funds would go back to Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association with a small amount of interest. For the neighborhood, they would meet their legal obligation to use the funds for housing, and once it was repaid they’d be able to fund community-building activities and improvement projects in Lowry Hill.

Janne pulled together the partners, got all of the necessary approvals, and the plan was such an effective solution that several other neighborhood organizations have used the same model since.

Not only did Janne find a solution to our NRP dilemma, she was also a clear-headed, calming force who absolutely kept me in check. I can be a bit of a hot-head, and at times I was not the most diplomatic Vice President of LHNA. I remember one particular incident when Janne calmly and kindly told me that my comments were not productive and if I didn’t amend my thinking and tone, she would no longer be willing to serve as NRP committee chair. I am thankful that she assertively spoke up as it helped me to reassess how I could more productively serve our neighborhood and strive to de-escalate confrontation, rather than escalate differences of opinion to an unhealthy, unproductive state.

I’m grateful for Janne’s guidance, and for her service to our community, and I have faith that she will continue to “go high” when leaders before her have tended to “go low.”

Janne Flisrand has an impressive record of making good things happen for the people in our community--particularly through her in-depth work on affordable housing. Join me in supporting Janne for Ward 7 City Council on November 7th!

-Beth St. John

Read more of what Janne’s colleagues and neighbors have to say about her work on affordable housing: