When Allison Marsh Bogdanovic graduated summa cum laude from the University of Richmond 10 years ago, her orderly mind saw herself in the business world, applying her leadership studies minor and her degree in business administration with an economics concentration to complex problems and systems to reduce costs, generate new business and reap high profits. In her first job that’s precisely what she did, for a high-tech consulting firm. But then she went back to school.

Enrolled in Virginia Commonwealth University’s master’s program on urban and regional planning, she had John Accordino as a professor and a mentor. Accordino has an international reputation and a deep footprint in Virginia as a thought leader in urban planning. Much like “The Graduate’s” Dustin Hoffman was told that his future was in plastics, the professor told his talented student that with her business and leadership studies background, she really should work in housing. The master’s degree she earned in 2004 and a position with Virginia Supportive Housing led to her future career.

Today, she is Director of Housing Development for the statewide social entrepreneurial nonprofit that is a national model for providing affordable housing for people on society’s edge—whether they are homeless, in transition or coping with special needs. The organization’s mission is to provide a permanent solution to homelessness.

So, instead of improving a business’ bottom line, Bogdanovic's work focuses on improving the quality of life for the most needy residents of The Commonwealth.

Founded in 1988, Virginia Supportive Housing was the first not-for-profit in the Commonwealth with the mission of providing permanent supportive housing to homeless single adults. It took four years, but in 1992 New Clay House opened, becoming the first permanent supportive apartments in Virginia and home to 47 formerly homeless single adults. In 1999, VSH began serving families. VSH has an approach that differs from some other housing organizations. It

  • Develops and manages properties specifically for use as permanent housing.  Tenants stay as long as they wish, provided they can meet their commitments to pay rent and live within the guidelines of the property. They sign leases and pay their own utilities.
  • Provides on-site case management and financial literacy counseling services to help people stay in shelter and keep jobs or benefits so they can someday move onto market rate housing.
  • Works with landlords who offer affordable housing and connects them to homeless and disabled people who need housing.

“It’s a very long-term perspective,” Bogdanovic says. “Once a person is in one of our fully furnished studio apartments and they’re off the street and shelter is not a day-to-day challenge for them, they can address other issues in their lives.” 

Residents pay sliding-scale rent for their housing. Their dire financial circumstances are often compounded by other challenges including substance abuse, mental illness and physical disabilities.

The statistics Bogdanovic shares are impressive: 96 percent of VSH residents obtain a stable income through work or entitlement programs and 90 percent stay off the streets for good.

“Our approach saves the public millions of dollars,” she notes. For example, the cost to the Greater Richmond community of providing temporary housing is $9,500 to $13,500 per person. VSH spends only about $4,500 per person, per year to provide permanent, supportive housing to individuals and families.

It is her job to make the numbers work. She combines her business acumen with her leadership sense to put together complex political and financial deals “combining 10 to 15 different financing sources, loans and grants” that involve private and public sector stakeholders, citizens and elected officials.

Typical of leanly staffed nonprofit roles, her job requires her to follow any project every step of the way. She creates the budgets and identifies funding sources – everything including Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Historic Tax Credits, HUD Section 811 program, State HOME program, VHDA SPARC program, local CDBG and HOME programs, Federal Home Loan Bank, and private foundations. She works with architects, contractors, attorneys, investors, lenders, public agencies and consultants. She monitors construction draws and change orders and is the principal contact for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Small Business Administration. She oversees environmental studies, zoning changes, historic reviews, legal documents and closings.  

“You need confidence because you’re working with banks. You need to be able to create responsible budgets. It’s critical that our projects are sustainable, and we achieve that through the credibility of our partners in the local communities. You need to build trusting relationships with people to achieve that.”

Some of that local community-building work involves high-tension political maneuvering around zoning, turf and credit. Sometimes, conflicts erupt. Understanding of group dynamics and conflict resolution, gleaned in Jepson School courses, come in handy, she says.

“If we’re going to end homelessness, I’m convinced this is the way to do it. To be able to do real estate development in this way, for this purpose, is incredibly fulfilling.”

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Examples of projects she has managed:

  • Directed the green adapative reuse conversion of a skating rink into 60 apartments at a project cost of $7 million, gleaned from four cities.    
  • Supervised construction of 14 accessible apartments for persons with disabilities on two sites. Secured $1,261,900 in HUD Section 811 capital advance financing.
  • Managed the $650,000 renovation of a farmhouse for a group home for persons with traumatic brain and spinal cord injury utilizing HUD Section 811, state, local and private funds, and a nonprofit partnership.
  • Developed financing for housing in the Greater Richmond, South Hampton Roads and Greater Charlottesville regions of Virginia. South Bay Apartments (60 regional units in Portsmouth) and Studios at South Richmond (21 units) and 60 units in Charlottesville are on the boards now. The South Bay application was ranked by Virginia Housing Development Authority lauded The South Bay project as the No. 1 nonprofit project in the state for 2010.