The Austin Tenants Council is the only organization in Texas dedicated to helping renters confront landlords about overdue repairs to their apartments, unfair fees, eviction proceedings, and other housing rights issues. ATC also works directly with HUD and other government agencies to advocate for residents experiencing discrimination in their housing. Thousands of Texas residents fight for better housing conditions and for their housing rights every year through ATC’s programs and services.
How did you become interested in this work?
Prior to coming to ATC, I’d been serving as the Executive Director for a nonprofit dedicated to promoting and developing women’s sports internationally. My previous positions were in nonprofit management of women’s healthcare clinics.
In Austin, it was becoming hard to look at any social justice issue or any community condition without looking at housing. I started seeing how where we live mandates the conditions of our lives and our chance to be healthy and successful.
I saw the poor in our community getting crushed in a cycle of rent burden, eviction, displacement, and lack of basic needs in “affordable” neighborhoods. I saw how Austin’s history of housing segregation is recreated— in racial and ethnic segregation of neighborhoods, via gentrification, and in the demographics of subsidized housing and homelessness. I decided that housing justice is at the core of strong, healthy, diverse, just communities.
What drives your passion?
I want to live in a world that is fair and just, where the needs of the poor and disadvantaged are a priority, and where the focus is on community rather than on profit.
Did you have a mentor or role model?
I’ve had two amazing mentors. My first boss, Dr. Sandi Rosenbloom, taught me high standards for research and writing. She introduced me to urban and regional planning, and taught me how to put together grant proposals when I was barely 18 years old. She often gave me work that was beyond my qualifications, challenging me to figure it out. Sandi suffers no fools and infused me with a strong sense of self-respect. She taught me how to be a badass woman in any setting, but especially how to command respect and lead professionally.
When I moved to Austin in 2001, I began to work for Amy Hagstrom Miller, and shortly after she generously gave me the chance to be on her startup team for Whole Woman’s Health. Amy taught me that there’s no manual for being a visionary, and that it’s right to seize leadership while you learn. Most importantly, she taught me that we must make contact with real people and real emotion when doing political or clinical work— and that we can’t be afraid to acknowledge conflict and complexity in our work. Amy taught me to be real about the work we do.
What's the biggest challenge in your work?
I always want to do more than I’m capable of. Sometimes I bite off more than I can chew because I don’t want to pass up an opportunity to work on something.
What's the best advice that you have ever received?
Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly.
What are your top tips for new Executive Directors?
- There is no manual. People pay good money for degrees to learn less than you already know.
- Everyone in your office knows more than you about something. Some know more than you about a lot of things.
- Nonetheless, you possess something that makes you the very best person to lead this organization. You have the opportunity to do radical good. Don’t hesitate.