Celebrate the Moments that Inspired Us in 2016


Laura Nunn, Policy Director

laura“We’ve got to make noises in greater amounts! So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!” – Horton Hears a Who

One of my favorite books that my mother read to me as a young child was Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who!, a story about an elephant, Horton, who one day learns of the residents of Whoville upon hearing their small voices from a floating speck of dust. After Horton attempts to protect the tiny community, some of Horton’s peers in the jungle put Whoville under threat when they dismiss its existence because they cannot see or hear the Whos. Horton does all he can to save his tiny friends, but ultimately, it is the power of the collective voice of the Whos that convinces the other jungle animals that Whoville exists and is worth protecting.

In bringing together San Diego’s expansive affordable housing community – from advocates and community organizations to builders and financial institutions – the San Diego Housing Federation has served as the region’s collective voice for affordable housing for over a quarter of a century. Our voice is comprised of the work we do throughout the year to be champions of affordable homes in the San Diego region. From our annual Ruby Awards to our monthly roundtables, SDHF is a constant presence in leading the conversation how to preserve and create more affordable homes throughout the county.

One of our largest and most high-profile events is our annual Affordable Housing and Community Development Conference, a chance for all involved in the creation and preservation of affordable homes throughout San Diego County to come together to highlight opportunities and tackle the challenges for our work moving forward.

In recent years, our conference has brought excellent thought leaders to speak to conference attendees. We have heard from Dr. Joshua Bramberger, who spoke of affordable homes as a prescription to address chronic health issues, and State Treasurer John Chiang, who spoke of the great need to build more affordable homes in California and what state leaders are doing to address the crisis. This year, our conference committee selected Dr. Antwi Akom, a professor and thought leader on place-making and urban design. Dr. Akom came highly recommended and samples of his work were intriguing. Needless to say, the committee made an excellent choice in bringing such a highly-regarded speaker to our conference. The thing about highly-regarded speakers, as we learned a week before the conference, is that they tend to also be highly-sought after. Dr. Akom was no exception. One week before he was scheduled address SDHF’s conference attendees as the keynote speaker, he was swooped up by the President of the United States. That’s right – he was invited by President Barack Obama to take part in the White House “Frontiers” conference at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh on the same day. And, when the President of the United States – POTUS – invites you to something, you go. So, Dr. Akom went and, thanks to today’s technology, SDHF was able to still have our esteemed keynote join the lunch session via Skype.

Dr. Akom’s keynote address was inspirational and moving on many levels. Having his expertise as a part of the day built upon the topics covered during the morning sessions and created a buzzing energy for attendees and speakers as they took part in the afternoon sessions. But, the moment that inspired me was seeing a message that SDHF received as a gesture of gratitude for letting President Barack Obama borrow our keynote speaker for that day, a short note saying, simply, “Hello San Diego Housing Federation! Love, POTUS.”

14570701_10104395413812377_5798001933373443823_o-1As an advocate for affordable homes and better communities, one can often feel like a resident of Whoville, a small voice in a large world. At this year’s conference, seeing that message from the President, I felt stronger than ever that the voices of the affordable housing community had been amplified and heard. With a brief message on a white board, I was reminded that we, collectively, are our best advocates for the work that we do.

Help us inspire others and advocate in our community by participating in Giving Tuesday and donate today, November 29, 2016.

-Laura Nunn


Cassi Neal, Programs Coordinator


In my role working directly with residents, service providers, and local community organizers I have found inspiration in many places. However, one of my first experiences in my new position was also one of the most deeply moving in my life to date. With only one week under my belt as programs coordinator at the Federation, it was my responsibility to oversee the travel for SDHF’s resident leaders to Housing California’s RUN Lobby Day. It was my first time meeting the group of resident leaders and community organizers I would be working closely with in the year to come. Safe to say, I was nervous.

After the hustle and bustle of traveling to Sacramento with our resident leaders, our next stop was a visit to the state’s capitol building to take part in group meetings with elected officials. My main role during this time was not only represent SDHF, but to make sure our residents leaders were comfortable and able to share their touching stories with those who represent them in our state government. Once they started sharing with the elected officials, and by proximity me, the importance of my new role become abundantly clear.

Never before had I been surrounded by individuals who were so passionate about an issue. Not passion just because affordable housing had impacted their lives directly, but because they knew firsthand the meaning and importance of a safe and stable home and wanted to advocate on behalf of others in need to have access to the same opportunity.

The San Diego region’s resident leaders went to five meetings that day, and as a part of a larger group of residents from throughout California, reached over 105 state elected officials. Each time sitting down with a complete stranger, a stranger regarded with power no less, and opening up in the most vulnerable way – by sharing their personal story. I listened as these individuals talked about the fear of their children not having a home and the struggles of being a single parent with no safe and secure shelter to provide their children. The strife of being a survivor of domestic violence. Having to stay in fear, secretly applying for assistance, because they could not afford a safer home without the support of their abuser. The young adult recognizing the difference affordable housing made to their family, and how the new empowerment they saw in their mother stirred new motivation for social change within themselves.

It takes true strength to share that vulnerability with anyone, let alone elected officials who may or may not share the same views, as you ask for their support. As I listened to these powerful life stories, I became overwhelmed with a sense of admiration for these individuals and found direction and purpose in my new position.

By now everyone knows the need for affordable housing in San Diego and throughout all of California is great. While it is important to push for more development, better tax credit programs, and improving policies in place, affordable housing is bigger than that. This work is about those stories, the lives that are enhanced individually and collectively, and increasing the broader awareness on the true impact of our affordable housing communities.

-Cassi Neal

Sarah B. Mirabelli, Events and Membership Coordinator


Throughout my first year with San Diego Housing Federation, I have been honored to be part of an organization that recognizes great people and great work. My inspiration comes from the people who go above and beyond the call of duty both to facilitate the creation of affordable homes in our communities and to ensure that others have a safe and supported place to live.

Part of this recognition are the annual Ruby Awards, held this year on June 2nd at University of San Diego’s Hahn University Center. Each year, SDHF’s Ruby Awards honor the achievements and excellence of the sector’s greatest advocates, leaders and residents.

I was moved by the words of this year’s John Craven Memorial Award recipient Susan Baldwin. As a long-time advocate of affordable housing, Susan spoke about the importance of the work she does and how it was engrained in her by her parents. More moving still, Susan put her words to action. Each year, the John Craven Memorial award includes a $1000 donation from the Craven family to a non-profit organization of the recipient’s choosing and, this year, Baldwin chose to give hers back to support SDHF’s resident education and engagement programs.

In my role, I don’t often have a chance to interact with the residents of affordable housing, but shortly after the Ruby Awards, I had the opportunity to be at the groundbreaking for the North Park Senior Apartments and hear from a future resident of the property, Robert Bettinger. Robert is an 87 years old gay man and advocate for LGBT-affirming senior communities. He is also a trailblazer. He served in the Army in Japan after World War II, became an ordained Episcopal priest and lobbied for greater acceptance of gays and lesbians. He served on Mayor Dianne Feinstein’s gay advisory committee in San Francisco and he helped open eyes and minds to the very real threat of displacement for those in the LGBT community here in San Diego.

Bettinger spoke about how this property and properties like this one would impact him and the community, “It’s the issue of not having family, but having somebody step up and be support to you, and someone who’s also experienced what you’ve experienced. The discrimination, the loss of jobs, the loss of home, family, being forced away from your own family, being refused to be acknowledged by your family. There are just so many people who need this housing.”

I was moved to tears as he spoke of the future residents of this community being able to benefit so greatly in the feelings of safety and dignity. “Many people are going to benefit from relief from isolation, depression, and anxiety and find that moments in their last days can be full of compassion and warmth. I’m happy for the many people who will go forward in hope, safety and comfort. There are loads of us waiting to be fully ourselves as we age.”

As a gay person, I know these feelings of isolation and anxiety and I know the hope for compassion and dignity in life. This groundbreaking helped push us toward a more inclusive and accepting future for LGBT people. As Bettinger said, “It’s wonderful that we’ve come to this step.”

Thank you, Susan Baldwin and Robert Bettinger for seeing what the world could be and inspiring greatness in others. You are a truly inspiring individuals and true leaders in this community. You both embody what it means to go above and beyond the call of duty in facilitating the creation of affordable homes in our communities and to ensure that others have a safe and supported place to live with the dignity they deserve.

-Sarah B. Mirabelli

Stephen Russell, Executive Director

I’ve only had the honor of representing the San Diego Housing Federation since December of 2016, but I have known many of our members and supporters for 15 years or more. During that time, I’ve participated in the Federation conference as an attendee, panelist, and moderator, and I have always admired the work of its members for their intelligence and commitment.img_5108

But it was not until this year, when I attended the Housing California Conference in April, that I really saw for the first time the power of the housing community that I am now a part of. My friends and colleagues in affordable housing had always struck me as some of the most remarkable professionals I had met in San Diego, and yet that observation was always a part of the casual admiration one gives to friends and family, which often remains unspoken and somewhat taken for granted.

It was a revelation, then, to see my friends and colleagues in the context of this statewide gathering, and to see them as key players in a larger, committed movement. It was inspiring to see the level of intelligence, spirit and commitment that was on display at this event, as well as the camaraderie that suffused the events surrounding the conference.

At that point, I had not yet had the opportunity to host one of our Federation conferences, and I walked away from the Housing California event with a stronger vision of how we in San Diego could curate and host a similarly inspiring event in our town that would further the cause of affordable housing.

We are all too accustomed to working in a resource-scarce environment – especially post-Redevelopment. But when I see the assembled houser family at a conference, I take heart in the fact that though we struggle with a paucity of funding, we have a wealth of talent, experience, and spirit working to make a home for everyone in our region.

To stand and hear the warm tumble of excited voices at Housing California in April – this was an inspiring moment!

-Stephen Russell


Come celebrate the most inspiring moments of 2016 with the San Diego Housing Federation! Our Holiday Party will be held on Tuesday, December 6th from 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM at 57 Degrees located at 1735 Hancock St, San Diego, CA 92101. Join us for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres while you network with colleagues, members and friends. We look forward to seeing you there! Tax deductible donations will be accepted at the door.


Thank you for supporting SDHF in this past year. With your help, SDHF will continue to work to create more inspiring moments through advocating, informing, expanding the expertise, networking and building of coalitions throughout the region. Each contribution helps advance our mission of working as a coalition to promote the creation of quality affordable housing focused on lower income families and people in need.

This year, we are fortunate to have a match campaign courtesy of San Diego Interfaith Housing Foundation that will match every dollar donated up to $10,000.

Please Donate Today!

Donation Levels
Hope – $25
Engage – $50
Inspire – $100
Empower – $250

All donations are tax deductible. Every dollar counts!


This year, on Tuesday, November 29, 2016, San Diego Housing Federation is participating in #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving. We encourage you to join the movement and visit www.givingtuesday.org to learn more about how you can make a difference.

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Thank you for your support! We look forward to a great 2017!

For more information about donating, please contact Events and Membership Coordinator, Sarah Mirabelli at 619-239-6693.