The Washington Housing Conservancy (WHC) is excited to welcome two new Board of Directors – Mark Joseph, PhD, Founding Director of the National Initiative on Mixed-Income Communities, based out of Case Western Reserve University, and Aakash Thakkar, Chief Acquisitions Officer at EYA, LLC. Their additions to WHC’s Board will support our expanding efforts to uplift communities the DC metropolitan region and beyond.

Mark Joseph, PhD 

While running a summer youth enrichment program in Atlanta after graduation, Mark Joseph heard perplexing news – Atlanta’s Techwood Clark-Howell Homes (now Centennial Place), one of the oldest public housing developments in the nation, was going to become a “mixed-income community.” Back in 1992, few people understood what that actually meant. Not perpetuating concentrated poverty like public housing models sounded like a great idea, but he wondered what would happen to the people who lived there. Where would they go? Would they be truly included in the newly redeveloped community near the Olympic Village? Would they get to go back home? 

Fast forward a few years, and Dr. Joseph is a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Chicago. At the time, the Windy City was at the center of the national conversion of public housing to mixed-income communities. He saw the opportunity to dig deeper into the questions generated years earlier in Atlanta and secured the first of several grants for case studies throughout the Chicago area, probing how mixed-income communities develop, who lives there, how do the communities evolve, and whether they create inclusive places where people feel they belong.  

Building on a decade of research, in 2013, Joseph and his colleagues launched the National Initiative on Mixed Income Communities (NIMC) at Case Western Reserve University where they focus on mixed-income development as a strategy for promoting urban equity and inclusion. Two years later, he co-authored the award-winning book, Integrating the Inner City: The Promise and Perils of Mixed-Income Public Housing Transformation to examine the process of integrating once-isolated public housing residents into the social and economic fabric of the Chicago. Unfortunately, the authors found that “developments had been transformed physically but not socially or economically,” leading to what Joseph and his co-author called, “incorporated exclusion. People had been incorporated into the mix, but they were still feeling excluded. We started NIMC to help developers, planners and community leaders to do this better and learn from past shortcomings.”    

Since its inception, Joseph and his colleagues have been critical partners with Washington Housing Conservancy (WHC) in designing, supporting and evaluating the development of WHC’s social impact strategies and implementation. WHC’s NIMC social impact consultation partners include Salin Geevarghese of SGG Insight, Frankie Blackburn of Trusted Space Partners along with Yerodin Avent, Khyati Desai, LaToya Thomas and Ata Adeel. Danielle Cummings is leading the team’s learning and evaluation work. 

After over five years of working closely with WHC, Joseph is excited to deepen his engagement even further by joining the Board. What sets WHC apart, in his view, is “the financial model that makes it possible for a nonprofit with a social mission to be as nimble and assertive as for-profit developers in acquiring properties.” But equally innovative is “the level of intentionality and care that has gone into designing and expanding the social impact model at the five properties and the ways in which property management staff and resident leaders have been on a learning journey together about what it means to take mixed income housing and turn it into an inclusive community,” Joseph says.  

He hopes to learn from his fellow Board members, further elevate the social impact work and continue to bridge it to the real estate side. He looks forward to working with the Board on strategies to ensure WHC’s long-term sustainability. He also hopes to help the organization confront the inherent challenges of race and racism in the housing industry and “to push the envelope on the question of inclusive mixed income community building and what it means to have economically diverse environments where all feel they belong and have a voice.” 

Aakash Thakkar  

A proud DC native, Aakash Thakkar was first exposed to the world of real estate through his parents, a partner at a real estate law firm and an architect. Even as a child, he was fascinated by his hometown and cities. “I wondered why some parts of the city were doing well and being invested in and others weren’t. Why was Connecticut Avenue thriving and why Georgia Avenue just, two miles away from Connecticut Avenue and three blocks from where I grew up in 16th Street Heights, was not? And that led to my interest in urban development and the intersection of the public and private sectors,” he says.  

After graduating from St. John’s College High School and receiving his undergraduate degree in Philadelphia, he went to work at Johnson & Johnson as a financial analyst where he cut his teeth in the business world. After earning an MBA and Masters in City Planning at Rutgers, he was selected as a Presidential Management Fellow working with Elinor Bacon who was then Deputy Assistant Secretary at HUD working on the Hope VI program. There, he was immersed in public housing financing and the workings of government.  

When Ms. Bacon, with Mayor Anthony Williams, launched the National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCRC) in 2001, a publicly chartered, entrepreneurial real estate development corporation established by the Washington, DC Council, with Federal support, Thakkar went to work on her team. NCRC’s mission was to spur economic development throughout the District, primarily in neighborhoods of need. The mission aligned well with Thakkar’s growing interest in real estate development with a purpose, and deepened his work in public and private sector collaboration. While at NCRC, he worked with numerous developers who saw that he had entrepreneurial energy and encouraged him to consider working in the private sector.   

He landed at EYA, LLC, a firm that matched his interests and values. EYA’s expertise in developing market-rate, attainable, and mixed-income communities with public and private funds. The fit with Thakkar’s interests and experience was spot on. Thakkar rose to his current position of Chief Acquisitions Officer and became an owner in the company as well. Aakash is responsible for sourcing and securing new acquisition and investment opportunities for EYA.  

Aakash’s connection to three WHC leaders – JBG SMITH’s AJ Jackson with whom he worked on EYA projects, WHC Board Member Josh Bernstein and his team at Bernstein Management, who are investors in EYA’s projects, and WHC Executive Director Kimberly Driggins, who worked closely with Aakash in a prior role with the District – sparked his interest in WHC’s work and model.   

“There is such a huge need for affordable, workforce housing. There is more demand than supply and building new housing at reasonable prices is really hard to do in DC. Land and real estate is expensive and supply is limited. WHC’s laser focus on workforce housing makes a great deal of sense to me,” he says.   

Thakkar is excited to join the WHC Board where he hopes to assist in finding opportunities, thinking through creative approaches to financing, and ensuring the organization’s stability so that it continues to be a viable and effective player in a competitive market.  

“WHC plays a vital role. Affordable housing is typically in the realm of the public sector working with the private and non-profit sectors and there hasn’t been a group focused squarely on workforce housing.  WHC is innovative and addresses a need and a demand that hasn’t been filled,” he says.  

Preserving housing affordability and promoting economic mobility in the DC-region

The Washington Housing Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Your investment helps us expand our work. Your gift is 100% tax-deductible. EIN 83-1866109

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