The day Brenda Hayden graduated from Dorchester High in Boston, she made what sounded like a bold proclamation to her mother, who was raising four kids on her own.
“I’m going to college,” she said.
“Great,” her mom replied. “How are you going to pay for it?”
“I have a full scholarship to Northeastern University,” her daughter announced.
Initiative like that has taken Hayden far in life, and, in 2019, it’s taken her to the top of the Charlotte Regional Realtor® Association and CarolinaMLS, as president of both. The Association has approximately 11,000 members, and the CarolinaMLS, a wholly-owned subsidiary, has about 16,000 subscribers who sell real estate in metro Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Asheville and other western North Carolina areas.
Hayden is the first African American woman to head the nearly 98-year-old Association. “If anything, I hope me being in this seat will help those who come after me,” she says. She follows by only two years the Association’s first African American man to serve as president, Roger Parham.
Among Hayden’s 2019 priorities are technology and continued Realtor® involvement in the community. “Realtors® are the owners of the best home-sale data,” she said “We have to continue to provide tools to our members so they can use their data to grow their business.”
With community involvement, the word Hayden likes is “connectivity.” “To have relevance, we have to connect with people in the community and be part of it,” she said. “The only thing that separates picking out a house on your phone from calling us as Realtors® is interpersonal interaction, showing people we care about them and having expert knowledge to help them.”
Born in Tallahassee, Fla., in 1966, Hayden moved to Boston with her family in the 1970s. When her mother and stepfather separated, her mom sent her two older brothers (she’s the third in line) to live with her grandparents while she and her sister stayed with their mom.
Her mom, Pearl Roebuck, worked hard as a teacher and later as a CAD technician for Raytheon. Still, at times, no electricity or food in the house was challenging. “We lived a life always in transition,” Hayden says. She attended three different high schools and made up her mind as a tenth grader that she wanted a career, which meant she needed more education.
Northeastern awarded her an engineering scholarship, but she realized as a sophomore that the field was not for her. She signed up for a work-study program, took advantage of cooperative education opportunities and applied for loans to keep going. In 1989, she graduated with a degree in business management, with her sights on corporate America.
She spent 10 years in claims with a large insurer and four-and-a-half years in collections with a large financial services company, but she became frustrated with advancement. With both companies she worked her way into entry-level management only to see further opportunities not materialize. Even earning her MBA from Queens University in Charlotte didn’t make a difference.
‘Pop, I’m out’
“I tracked fast until I didn’t, and I thought, ‘Pop, I’m out,’” said Hayden, who moved to Charlotte in 1997 and obtained her MBA in 2001.
The same month Hayden left the financial services company she became a new-home agent for builder C.P. Morgan, putting to work a real estate license she’d used part-time since obtaining it in 2001. She worked for the builder of entry-level homes for about two years, until the market dried up with the recession.
As foreclosures proliferated, Hayden began a three-year stint in December 2009 as the Charlotte-area director for Builders of Hope. The nonprofit rehabbed distressed housing, often given to the nonprofit by banks, and then sold or rented it to the consumer.
“We were not just ‘masking on’ paint,” Hayden recalled. “We were doing everything from foundations to roofs, including making places energy efficient.” Projects included two apartment complexes as well as single-family homes in Lincoln Heights, Biddleville, Washington Heights, Thomasboro and other communities.
‘Wearing Six Hats’
Hayden was responsible for everything from securing land and funding to overseeing the projects and selling, or renting, the completed units. Eligible renters made 30 percent or less of Charlotte’s average median income, and eligible buyers, 50 percent or less. “As our funding got tighter, I was wearing six hats and had no assistant,” she said, noting that the nonprofit is no longer operating in Charlotte. “The concept is still needed, but it requires a lot of resources and public/private partnerships.”
Through Builders of Hope, she became aware of the Association’s Housing Opportunity Foundation (HOF) and began her leadership rise at the Association. She joined the Fair and Affordable Housing Advisory Group in 2011 and chaired it three years later. She went on the HOF Board of Directors in 2016 and chaired the HOF Committee the following year. The Association’s membership voted her to its board in 2015.
Now as president of the Association and CarolinaMLS, Hayden hopes to see the HOF endowment reach $1 million in 2019. With about $700,000 already in place and plans being made to raise the difference, Hayden noted, “I think we can reach that goal.” Her face lights up at the prospect.