Rebecca Louie has been named as the new president and CEO of Wakeland Housing and Development Corp., an affordable housing developer based in downtown San Diego.
A native Alaskan and member of the Tlingt-Haida tribe, Louie is a University of California San Diego graduate who worked as a planner for SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) before joining Wakeland in 2005. She also has worked for the Center on Policy and United Indian Nations Community Development Corp.
Providing affordable housing has long been a keen interest of hers, Louie said.
“I’ve just always noticed that things are not fair when you’re low income and you face so many more hardships. I love the idea of being able to help people to succeed and overcome the barriers that we face when we’re low income.”
Louie succeeds Ken Sauder, who founded Wakeland in 1998.
With an annual budget of $6 million and a staff of 44, Wakeland has developed more than 7,500 affordable apartments in San Diego and Los Angeles and has nine projects under construction.
“The thing I plan to do is build more affordable housing than we have in the past,” Louie said. “I want to keep growing at a faster rate because there’s such an incredible need.”
As a board member of the San Diego Housing Federation – a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing – Louie said that she is acutely aware of the housing shortage. It can take years for people who sign up for an apartment to actually move in, she said.
“As soon as we started construction, we have 1,000 people on our waiting list,” Louie said.
Stephen Russell, president and CEO of the Housing Federation, said that Louie “is extremely committed to the cause of affordable housing and solving the housing crisis.”
“She has contributed many innovations to our sector over the years, including training programs for staff that have improved the quality of residents’ lives,” Russell said.
Setting an Example
Growing up in Anchorage, Louie said that she worked on a ranch wrangling ponies and was a trail guard.
“I had a great childhood,” Louie said. “I had two parents who were passionate about their careers.”
Her father was a surveyor who worked on the Alaskan pipeline and her mother was a midwife developed a state certification program for midwives.
“They just always taught me that we should be giving back to our community,” Louie
Louie said her background as a native-American “established in me this idea of equality and social justice.”
“Native-Americans are discriminated against in Alaska and I saw it first-hand and I saw how communities could be marginalized and left out of things and always wanted to be part of helping fix that,” Louie said.
The mother of two daughters, Simone, 14, and Elise, 12, Louie said that “being a minority female really does drive everything that I do. It drives my passion for equality, diversity and inclusion.”
“I am proud to set this example for my daughters and other women in the industry and I look forward to doing a mentoring program for other women who want to follow in my path,” Louie said.
Louie wound up in San Diego after a friend told her about the urban planning program at UC San Diego.
“Urban planning is a great field because you study a little bit of everything,” Louie said.
Among her favorite projects at Wakeland was the $27 million Ivy Senior Apartments on Mount Alifan Drive in Clairemont.
The 60-apartment project for formerly homeless seniors met with strong community opposition at first, but Louie said that it has been well received since it opened in March.
Louie said people are more willing to accept affordable housing projects than they were in the past.
“It’s a crisis you can’t turn your head away from any more or pretend that it’s not impacting us. Right now is the time when people are very open to it in a way that maybe they haven’t been. When I started, we had a lot more people who were against having affordable housing in their communities and we had to put up a bigger fight for it.”
One way to ease community concerns, as she did with Ivy, is to bring community members to visit affordably housing projects that have already been built.
“I can show people so many beautiful affordable properties,” Louie said.
Louie often visits with the people who move into the apartment complexes that Wakeland builds. “It fuels what I do,” she said.
Wakeland Housing and Development Corp.
CEO: Rebecca Louie
Headquarters: Downtown San Diego
Business: Affordable housing developer
Annual revenue: $5.5 million
Notable: Wakeland Housing has built 7,500 affordable apartments in 53 projects throughout California.