‘This is the moment’: Dr. Tiffany Manuel challenges Realtors® to become ‘adaptive’ housing leaders

By Susan Shackelford

Speaking to Canopy Realtor® Association members via Zoom on Nov. 19, 2020, Dr. Tiffany Manuel made a rousing case for why Realtors® are specially qualified to lead on affordable housing in their communities.

“This is the moment you’ve been called off the bench as Realtors® to serve a larger role, not just in your profession, but to help the region overcome some of the problems it has,” said Manuel, president and CEO of TheCaseMade, an Orlando, Fla.-based firm that helps organizations build public and political will to handle community challenges.

The day’s Realtor® Hot Topic of “Making the Case for Innovative and Inclusive Housing Solutions” featured her speech, a Q&A and a panel discussion she moderated with three local housing experts. All were delivered via Zoom.

As Manuel spoke, she featured this slide as the first of five key points of her talk: “Realtors® are uniquely positioned as adaptive leaders — interpreters between the technical and adaptive challenges we face in housing.”

By “technical” she meant being able to explain terms such as LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation), Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other housing aspects often unfamiliar to the public and the media.

With “adaptive,” she acknowledged the complex, systemic cultural issues that affect affordable housing, as well as the impact of COVID-19. “As we all know, we are experiencing the toughest challenges that we’ve seen in more than a generation,” Manuel said. “People are on the verge of eviction with moratoriums expiring, and that’s on top of housing challenges we already had. We have to figure out a way forward.”

That takes adaptive leadership, Manuel said. “That’s what we’re missing.”

To emphasize the point, she noted in a slide: “Adaptive leaders help us visit the future and prepare for what we will need when we get there.”

“Your role potentially as Realtors® is to get people to envision the possibilities and to get into the energy and excitement of what it looks like,” she said. “I don’t know what the future of every community is in Charlotte. Y’all work in particular places all across the region. It’s an opportunity to figure it out, to recognize it — to think big about what’s coming.”

She went on to make four key points about adaptive leaders: they work well with stakeholders, they understand how to use facts and data strategically, they acknowledge the context of housing equity and justice, and they master the art of pulling people together.

Manuel believes Realtors® have a big advantage with stakeholders. “Y’all touch so many places in the housing space, such as banks and finance, the planning department, insurance,” she said. “You touch so many across the region that it uniquely qualifies you as adaptive leaders because of the collaborative nature of your work itself.”

Stakeholder groups should be broad. “Think outside the box of partnerships to how systems work together,” she explained. “Y’all should be working with the workforce development system, the transportation system, the health system, the education system. So, as you think about the vision for the region and your role, what are the intersections?”

“Adaptive leaders understand that intersections matter!” she flashed in a slide.

Using data strategically to make the affordable housing case is important, not only to further dialogue but because poor use of facts can hurt the cause. Manuel pointed out a graphic showing one in 10 households in a particular community spent more than half of their living expenses on housing. “That backfired,” she said. “Only one in 10 is a success story.”

Adaptive leaders also must be grounded in the historical underpinnings of housing inequity so they understand the importance of shifting the narrative to one of hope, aspiration and interdependence. “Our fates are connected,” Manuel said. “Adaptive leaders must tell stories of interdependence and tackle equity issues if we are to solve the problems our nation faces.”

“If I live in Ballantyne, it’s important to recognize my housing stability is deeply connected to folks who live across the region, because we are part of a broader regional economy and it needs to function well,” she explained.

In pulling people together, leaders can draw from 10 core principles Manuel has identified for making a strategic case. They are part of her book, “Strategic CaseMaking.”

She shared two of the principles to provide a flavor. They both dealt with how effective adaptive leaders communicate.

“Speak to people’s aspirations,” she said, noting the Nike brand’s “Fearless” and “Dream With Us” commercials. Nike seldom shows its shoes, she pointed out, the company “shows people aspirations for their lives.”

The other communication example showed how to reach out positively when negative views exist. To counter negative views around homelessness, a community she worked with did a public campaign called “Having an Address.” It educated the public about how an address is necessary for basic life activities, such as getting a job, voting, enrolling children in school and many more.

In the Q&A, Manuel said she defines community engagement as people “seeing their stake in an initiative’s success, and that they lean forward because they are excited about it.”

She also noted the potential for Charlotte to deal with its affordable housing challenge. “Charlotte is not stuck — San Francisco and LA are stuck,” she said. “San Franciscans will tell you that population growth happened so fast that they lost the moment of understanding about how it would change housing growth. Y’all are at the sweet spot for a vision forward.”