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Meet the NMA team: Alison Bell

Alison BellOur interview series continues today with NMA consultant Alison Bell, who works with Moving to Work (MTW) agencies across the country and is currently writing a series of posts on the NMA blog about the history and future of MTW.

How did you get your start in the industry?

While an undergraduate at the University of Alabama, I volunteered with Art 4 All, a summer program for children in the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority communities, which was a great experience. I was able to gain considerably more knowledge about the field during graduate school. Each year the incoming public policy graduate class at Johns Hopkins University does a semester-long project on a Baltimore-focused topic. In my year, we analyzed the neighborhood impacts of HOPE VI in Baltimore. I learned a lot about HUD, PHAs, urban policy, and neighborhoods while we conducted the analysis. Should anyone be interested, the study is still available online here.

How many years have you been at NMA? How many years in the industry?

I've worked at NMA for almost five years now and it has gone by incredibly fast. I first volunteered at a housing authority over 12 years ago, but I've been working directly in the housing industry for eight years. What amazes me about this industry is that even though I've been doing this for quite a few years now, there's still so much to learn (green development, historic preservation, and creative ways to finance affordable housing, just to name a few) and the impacts of policies are so different depending on the local housing market and political environment.

Education credentials?

I attended the University of Alabama (Roll Tide!) and earned a bachelor of arts in American studies and religious studies, with a minor in social welfare. I earned a master of arts in public policy from Johns Hopkins University. I also joke that I consider my first job out of graduate school as a policy analyst for the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget in Atlanta, Georgia, to be another two years of education. It was a very intensive, but extremely worthwhile, experience learning how state government works, the budgeting process, and how to effectively present analysis to state government leaders.

What’s one topic you’re most passionate about in the affordable housing industry?

There are so many topics I'm passionate about, but I'm probably the most interested in the Moving to Work demonstration and helping PHAs apply the authorized flexibilities effectively. Although there are many innovative things PHAs can do when it comes to MTW, to be able to realize the administrative efficiencies, policies need to be well thought through, continually evaluated, and perhaps most importantly, effectively communicated to staff through well-articulated training materials and written procedures. I enjoy assisting PHAs brainstorm and implement effective MTW activities and take pride in helping them achieve their local goals.

What's your favorite part about your job?

Working with many wonderful, very smart housing authorities. I have the opportunity to help them with whatever needs they have, but inevitably I learn so much from them in a range of areas from affordable housing development, local laws, and resident services to effective management and leadership skills.

Describe your typical work day.

I'm not so sure I have a typical work day. Some days I wake up at 4 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight so I can be at a housing authority by 9 a.m. Other days involve sitting down and writing administrative plans or Moving to Work plans and communicating with clients regarding draft language. Some of the best days involve working side-by-side with other NMA professionals and having the opportunity to have detailed discussions about the proper application of HUD regulations — nerdy yes, but strangely rewarding!

Alison Bell likes to spend time outside work with her puppy, Pippa, and her fiancé, Dan, exploring Alexandria, where they live, and the nearby Washington, DC area. She also enjoys reading books on her Kindle, monitoring her Marriott and US Airways points, and running around the many beautiful cities and towns she gets to visit as a consultant with NMA.