Coming home

Lowcountry Housing Trust executive director Michelle Mapp at a 6-unit apartment the trust is helping to renovate at North Nassau and Isabella Streets on Friday May 18, 2012. (Wade Spees/postandcourier.com)

Michelle Mapp’s first post-collegiate job was with the Navy, working in Washington, D.C., as a research analyst for the commission that eventually ordered the Navy base in North Charleston closed.

So, it is somewhat ironic that Mapp, 20 years later, finds herself working in a former naval supply building on the former base.

Mapp, is executive director of the Lowcountry Housing Trust, a nonprofit community development organization that’s quickly grown to become a significant financier of regional affordable housing efforts.

“We’ve been able to do about $14 million in lending,” Mapp said.

The $14 million was loaned over roughly seven years, with annual lending growing at a time when banks have been pulling back.

The trust collects contributions from local governments and foundations, and also tax-credit-driven investments from companies and individuals, and uses that money to pull down matching funds from the federal government.

“Last year, we received $2 million from the Treasury,” Mapp said.

Those funds are then loaned out in amounts up to $500,000 to developers of affordable housing. Some funding is used to support first-time homebuyer programs, and the trust also loans money for energy efficiency upgrades to rental properties that meet affordability guidelines.

The trust keeps a close eye on federal funding opportunities that could benefit the region.

“We feel like our mission is to create housing that isn’t being created,” Mapp said.

When President George W. Bush signed the $4 billion Housing Recovery Act of 2008, the trust pulled in $7.4 million on behalf of a group of housing organizations in the three-county region. It was the largest amount of that funding that went to South Carolina.

The funds were used to buy and fix up properties that were in foreclosure, which then were rented or sold as affordable homes.

“The whole purpose of the program was to stabilize neighborhoods,” said Mapp.

Interesting path Mapp’s route to the executive director’s chair was an indirect one, and at 42, she’s earned more degrees and pursued more career paths than many people do in a lifetime.

Mapp of North Charleston was a Clemson University graduate with a degree in industrial engineering when she took that first job with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Washington. And during her time there, she earned a master’s degree in engineering management from George Washington University.

With her first post-graduate degree in hand, Mapp relocated to Atlanta for the first in a series of jobs with computer software and logistics companies.

There, she met her husband, Marquette Mapp, an engineer?with Nortel whom she married in 1996.

Five years later, she was pregnant with her first child, and her husband had been laid off from his job in Atlanta but found a new one in the Charleston area. That’s where her parents lived, and where she spent part of her childhood, attending Garrett High School when her family returned to the area from Germany, where her father was in the Army.

Back to school With an advanced degree in engineering and years of experience in software and supply chain logistics, Mapp decided on returning to Charleston to change career paths. She started teaching math at Stall High School through South Carolina’s Program of Alternative Certification for Educators, and that heightened her interest in community development.

“It seemed like a lot of the struggles kids were having in the classroom had less to do with what was happening in school, and more to do with what was happening at home and in the community,” Mapp said.

So in 2003, pregnant with her second child, Mapp enrolled at the College of Charleston and over the following two years earned a second master’s degree, in public administration.

While Mapp was working on that degree, the organization that would become the Lowcountry Housing Trust was being created, in close cooperation with the city of Charleston.

Originally known as the Charleston Housing Trust, the independent nonprofit was created to capture and then distribute some types of government affordable housing money that existing groups and local governments in the area had been unable to tap.

Tammie Hoy, a city Department of Housing and Community Development employee, was hired to run the organization, and the city initially paid her salary. Like Mapp, Hoy had earned a master’s in public administration from the College of Charleston.

“We just hit it off from day one,” Hoy said.

Mapp joined the Lowcountry Housing Trust as a part-time paid intern, an intern with two master’s degrees and 10 years of work experience. The organization got off to a quick start, landing $1 million in funding through the S.C. Housing Finance and Development Authority.

At the time, housing in the Charleston area was becoming increasingly unaffordable as real estate prices soared. The Lowcountry Housing Trust used funding it secured to help finance construction of homes for people with middle-class or low incomes.

Creating good, affordable housing helps stabilize communities, Mapp said.

“You start to see engagement from those in the community, and that encourages businesses to invest,” she said.

Up the ladder While working as a paid intern at the trust, Mapp got certified as a housing finance professional and was promoted to program director about two years after joining the organization.

The Lowcountry Housing Trust grew in financial strength, in staff and in reach. It was approved by the U.S. Treasury in 2007 as a community development financial institution, opening the door to more funding opportunities.

“We are the only CDFI in South Carolina that’s received funds from the Treasury in recent years,” Mapp said.

The organization now serves Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester, Georgetown and Beaufort counties.

Mapp became assistant director of the organization at the start of 2010, and then in June, Hoy left for a job with the Federal Reserve Bank in Richmond.

“Certainly, she was next in line for the position, but she had two small children and wasn’t sure,” Hoy said. “I always knew she was the one.”

A national search for a new executive director was launched after Mapp said she wasn’t interested, and Freddie Mac executive Dale Saunders was hired. Eight months later, Saunders was gone for reasons that have been left unexplained. It was then that Mapp became executive director in the spring of 2011.

“It’s been a growing experience for me,” Mapp said. “I’ve always been a behind-the-scenes number-cruncher.”

As the organization continues to grow and expand its reach, one new area will involve helping lower-income communities with access to healthy foods. Some areas, including parts of North Charleston, have no traditional supermarkets.

“One of the things our board started asking about a year ago was, is housing enough?” Mapp said.

That led to the trust landing $500,000 in federal funding for the healthy foods initiative, which could be used to offer low-interest loans for appropriate projects. So far, some of the money has been used to help finance a retail produce outlet in Beaufort.

The organization’s main focus remains on housing, however, and Mapp said that despite the decline in real estate prices, affordable housing remains an issue in the region. For buyers, down-payment requirements and good credit have become an increasing hurdle, and rising rental rates have become an increasing problem for renters, she said.

“What’s interesting is that, now, I would say our demand is as great as it’s ever been,” Mapp said.