Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

Rick Presbrey's Editorial: The Thrill of Success

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 @ 10:24 AM

Having been at this for a long time you might think that I don’t get a thrill out of some of our accomplishments.

You would be wrong.

The thrill I get is directly related to how much fear I have during the years of planning that each project takes. For example, as we work to create a new and better shelter for individuals, I have lots of apprehension about finding a good location, getting the money, and developing an innovative program that responds to the needs of the client population. Once all that is achieved, I will be thrilled. Any time we tackle a difficult problem and achieve success it is very satisfying and thrilling.

One such achievement, many years ago, was the construction of 99 homes under our self-help housing program. That program operated from 1979 to 1984 and was responsible for building homes in 14 towns on the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard. HAC taught families in groups how to build their own homes with each group led by a construction supervisor. It was very difficult. People worked their spare hours for more than a year before the homes were completed.

Last week I ran into a woman, who I had no recollection of, and as I encountered her she enthusiastically called out my name saying, “Oh, you are Rick Presbrey,” as if I was a celebrity. (I hardly think of myself in that way these or any other days). She then explained that she and her husband had been part of a self-help group in Falmouth, which I had organized, and that they had built a home and were still living in it 30 years later! Her enthusiasm was very validating and, yes, thrilling.

One regret I have always had is that we never built any homes on Nantucket. But that is about to change! And that, for me, is a thrill! Not only have we created and currently operate a successful development program, building all affordable homes and apartments, many of which have encountered seemingly insurmountable obstacles, but now we have achieved the Holy Grail of our development profession and are achieving the impossible: 40 affordable for-purchase homes on the most expensive place in Massachusetts: Nantucket. Hooray for us!

Yes, there has been lots of fear of failure. A thousand meetings, dozens of crises, and many changes of plans. Houdini couldn’t have faced as many challenges as we did just getting the money to make the homes affordable.

What makes me especially satisfied, even though not a single house has been completed yet, was that last week we received the signed 15th purchase and sale agreement for the last house for phase one of the project. The bank and the Zoning Board of Appeals, skeptical (as we sometimes were) of our probability of success, required that we pre-sell all the houses prior to construction. No model homes to show, just roads and vacant lots and drawings to convince people to take a chance. We also weren’t sure that people would qualify, would have good enough credit, and have the needed down payment, but they did and it is happening. Foundations are in and the first families will move in on or about the first of the New Year!

Kudos to all who played important parts in this including many from Nantucket, our past and present staff at HAC and our champion consultant Kevin Maguire.