( ENSPIRE Feature ) Working With Programs Like PACT, Amy Stokes Helps Create Affordable Housing Across New York
ENSPIRE Contributor: Komal Javaid
Amy Stokes was raised by working-class parents and witnessed firsthand the daily challenges her parents had due to the high cost of housing on her family and community. Today, hundreds of thousands of families and children in New York City are forced to live in apartments that they despise, and Amy Stokes’ understanding and empathy towards the situation has moved her to create positive change in the housing industry in New York.
Amy decided she wanted to work in the affordable housing market because of her upbringing and experience. Amy is now one of the organizers of the PACT Renaissance Collaborative (PRC), a mission-driven group that is refurbishing over 1,700 units across 16 projects in Manhattan and assisting 3,000 individuals through NYCHA’s PACT program. In addition, Amy launched her own certified women-owned business that focused on a community-first affordable housing model. Amy and the PRC team are putting families first and enhancing the overall quality of life for the thousands of tenants who deserve a positive shift in their lives after decades of deferred maintenance and neglect across the 16 Manhattan complexes.
ENSPIRE was able to talk to Amy Stokes about her motivations for getting involved with PACT, her goals for the organization’s future, and more.
What was your motivation for working in the affordable housing unit?
From an early age, I was very aware of the challenges and pressures presented by housing insecurity. Housing is something that some individuals take for granted, but for far too many others, particularly for the communities I now work within New York, it’s the root of constant anxiety.
I had always wanted to make an impact on the world around me. So once I started graduate school to pursue a degree in urban planning, I learned about the affordable housing industry, and it seemed like a natural fit, and I’ve made a career of it ever since.
There’s no better feeling than being able to provide quality and affordable housing to New Yorkers who are most in need of it.
You mentioned challenges facing women in the real estate industry. What advice would you give to young women experiencing challenges similar to yours?
Don’t ever limit yourself. Too often, young people — particularly young women — hoping to enter the real estate industry second-guess themselves because they don’t think they have the right experience or the proper skills to make an impact in the industry. What makes the real estate industry unique is that there’s always room for your skillset. Whether you have a background in government, banking, communications, social services, whatever it might be–real estate firms need individuals with diverse skillsets — with your skillset.
Be confident in yourself and your unique skills, and put yourself out there.
Tell us about some of the personal experiences with individuals whose lives you impacted with your organization?
The latest initiative I’m working on is the PACT Renaissance Collaborative (PRC), a team made up of mission-driven for-profit and not-for-profit development partners dedicated to rehabilitating 16 public housing developments owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).
We’re working hand-in-hand with the nearly 3,000 residents who call these properties home to improve quality of life through major renovation work and enhanced access to social services and programming.
For the past two years, I’ve been on the ground working in these developments, overseeing repair, renovation, and rehabilitation work, and working directly with residents to assist them through this improvement process. For years, many of these residents have been living in conditions not conducive to healthy and vibrant living, and we’re doing everything possible to make a difference for these public housing residents who, like anyone else, deserve respect, dignity, and opportunity that quality, affordable housing brings.
It’s been an absolute pleasure and honor getting to know the thousands of residents we’re working with daily and seeing how improved and safer housing transforms lives.
How would you say PRC is improving the quality of life for many individuals?
Comprehensive renovations in apartments and developments where maintenance has been deferred for decades are the most immediate quality of life improvements. These renovations include everything from installing new kitchens, bathrooms, and flooring to a full suite of exterior repairs. But our work also reaffirms to residents that they matter. So a central element of our effort is ensuring that we’re entirely responsive to residents. Whether it’s addressing a needed repair or providing a specific social service offering, we try to do everything possible to respond to the needs of residents and, most importantly, follow through on our promises to them.
What steps do people have to take who are currently looking for affordable housing?
Finding quality, affordable housing across the five boroughs can be extremely challenging due to the persistent shortage of affordable housing options. What makes this such a concern for the city’s future is that so much in our lives is dependent on having a safe home to return to each night. Without it, maintaining employment, health, relationships, and family becomes exceedingly more difficult. Therefore, access to quality and affordable housing needs to be the backbone of society, and much more needs to be accomplished to ensure that access is expanded.
Amy Stokes’ dedication to her community and the people of New York City shows the importance and influence of just one individual, with the PACT Renaissance Collaborative (PRC) and its current work with over 3,000 individuals showing just how broad and essential that work can be. Affordable and quality housing is not just a nicety, but rather a complete necessity, and the attention Amy Stokes brings to this issue of affordable housing enables the rest of us to see how pervasive this issue can be and how we can possibly be of help in our own communities regarding affordable housing. Whether it is larger initiatives such as the PRC or more minor pushes to provide the necessary maintenance for housing simply, we can all understand the importance of affordable housing and, in turn, contribute to making our communities more accessible and equitable.
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