Rebecca Hatfield, senior vice president of real estate at Avesta Housing, has been named president and CEO of the affordable housing nonprofit.
Hatfield, who joined Avesta in 2015, will succeed longtime President and CEO Dana Totman when he retires in September. Totman announced in January that he would retire after 22 years.
Portland-based Avesta Housing is the region’s largest provider of affordable housing, with 109 properties and more than 4,600 residents.
Hatfield, 44, will take the reins at a critical point in Maine’s escalating affordable housing crisis.
“The affordable housing crisis in our community has reached unprecedented levels,” she said. “The situation is even more dire than it was pre-pandemic.”
People who were already in need of housing when the pandemic hit were generally the most vulnerable and had the most adverse impacts, she said.
Rent has become unaffordable for nearly half of Maine renters, according to a recent report from Harvard University.
The study, published last week by the school’s Joint Center for Housing Study, indicated that 41.1 percent of tenants in the state are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their gross income on housing. Almost 20 percent were “severely” cost-burdened.
The 41.1 percent figure was based on data from 2020. More recent numbers collected in February found that rents have gone up nearly 12 percent nationally in the last year.
Avesta’s applications increased by 32 percent over the last year, and the organization receives hundreds of calls each week, many from people experiencing homelessness.
“The housing gap is much larger than it used to be,” Hatfield said.
The Maine State Housing Authority estimates that the state is 20,000 to 25,000 units short of what it needs to end the affordable housing shortage.
Hatfield said she recognizes the importance of stepping into her new leadership role at such a crucial juncture and that she is committed to making a difference and to moving the housing conversation forward.
“I feel really strongly about really being committed and dedicated to helping people in need,” she said.
Hatfield added that she believes in the importance of equity, diversity, inclusion and moving society forward in the right direction. What Avesta does is at the heart of that, she said.
Last week, Avesta opened Deering Place, a new, 75-unit development in Portland.
The building features 40 affordable and 35 market-rate units ranging in price from $850 to $1,250 per month. Of the 35 market-rate apartments, a number are being subsidized through government housing vouchers.
There were 700 lease applications for the 75 available apartments.
It hardly makes a dent in Maine’s affordable housing crisis, but Totman said it’s one step closer.
“The only way we’re going to get there is one project at a time,” he told the Press Herald last week.
The nonprofit agency saw substantial growth in Totman’s two decades at the helm.
Under his leadership, the number of staff increased from 60 to 300, and the number of affordable homes in the organization’s portfolio grew from 700 to 3,200, according to a news release.
Totman’s work over the last 22 years has allowed Hatfield to step into a strong organization with a bright future ahead of it, she said.
Jonathan Culley, board chair, said that Hatfield impressed them with her compassion for people in the community and her strategic vision for the organization.
Hatfield said her seven years with Avesta have helped prepare her for this next step. She’s worked with people in every part of the organization and has an understanding and appreciation for the work they do.
“Being a part of an organization that’s been able to develop hundreds of homes for people in need has been one of the biggest accomplishments,” she said.
She declined to elaborate on her strategic vision for Avesta until she’s stepped into her new role in September but said she’s looking forward to working with the board, staff, stakeholders and the community to help maximize the nonprofit’s impact.
Before joining Avesta, Hatfield was a senior vice president at Citigroup. She serves on the boards of the Maine Real Estate and Development Association and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.
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