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A servant at heart

How one IREM Foundation scholarship recipient is making a difference

By Jo D. Miller
Closeup Image Of Woman's Hand Writing On A Blank Notebook With Laptop , Tablet And Coffee Cup On Wooden Table Background

Property management, at its core, is a service industry. And for many people, to serve is the entire point of being a part of the industry, going much deeper than facilitating a lease transaction or hiring maintenance contractors.

“I was exposed to community service at an early age. I receive the greatest joy from helping restore peace and independence to someone’s turbulent life.”

—Cheryl Rivers, CPM Candidate

CPM Candidate and IREM Foundation scholarship recipient Cheryl Rivers is one such person; she has devoted her career to assisting populations with complex social challenges. Her story is an example of how the Foundation furthers the education of real estate professionals through scholarships that benefit recipients at any stage of their careers—which in turn benefits those whose lives they set out to change for the better.

The path to service

The desire to support the underserved started a long time ago for Cheryl. “I was exposed to community service at an early age,” she says. She witnessed her mother and grandmother make a difference in the lives of others through care and compassion, so it was natural for her to select a career that positively impacts people’s lives. “I receive the greatest joy from helping restore peace and independence to someone’s turbulent life,” she adds.

For over 22 years, Cheryl has held senior- and executive-level leadership positions within public service organizations, including the YWCA (director of programs), Interfaith Ministries (director of senior services) and Hester House (executive director), a community service nonprofit that provides help to over 1,500 Houston families. Her background in providing support for those in affordable housing ultimately led her to work at the Houston Housing Authority (HHA).

Leading by serving

In 2007, Cheryl accepted her first position with HHA as director of client services. She held this role for nearly 10 years, responsible for programs related to education, financial literacy, resident engagement and community development. With an operations mindset, a propensity for analytical thinking and a drive to improve processes, Cheryl also developed innovative strategies to address emerging needs and trends within housing.

Her boots-on-the-ground experience was a great base of understanding for resident needs, but her immediate supervisor saw other qualities that made her a good candidate for higher-level management. In 2017, she accepted a one-year interim role as director of asset management, overseeing a portfolio of nearly 6,000 units at 26 multifamily sites. She is now deputy director of housing operations, alongside HHA vice president—and former IREM Foundation scholarship recipient—George D. Griffin III, CPM, CCIM.

The IREM journey begins

George, who was already deeply involved with IREM, encouraged Cheryl to join IREM and begin working toward her Certified Property Manager (CPM) designation. Cheryl was no stranger to professional development, holding multiple college degrees and four other certifications. Yet Cheryl recognized the value of IREM education.

So, with George’s urging, Cheryl applied for an IREM Foundation scholarship in January of 2019 and was awarded funds to begin her first three courses. “The course curriculum re-energized me with new ideas and concepts that I know will benefit the Houston Housing Authority in its current climate,” says Cheryl. “I can better see the performance vision of the upper directors, beyond reports and financial statements.”

“From my own experience,” adds George, “I knew that the IREM Foundation could provide Cheryl with valuable assistance in her pursuit of an IREM education. And it was obvious that she’d be a good candidate for a scholarship because she was such a valuable employee of HHA. Her dedication to service and her IREM education position her to make an impact as HHA moves into the future.”

New model calls for broader skillset

Funding challenges, an aging housing stock and increased housing demands have led public housing agencies like HHA to adopt private-sector property and asset management practices. This trend requires a diversification of services and real estate practices, and portfolios increasingly consist of mixed-income housing that may include housing, commercial and retail components.

Housing authorities are also leveraging private capital to finance property rehabilitation and development and converting assistance to project-based affordable housing with private ownership. These new loan commitments and private-sector partners mean that now more than ever the portfolios placed in Cheryl’s care will be held to higher standards. With the support of the IREM Foundation and its scholarship program, Cheryl will be well-equipped to navigate the shifts that are taking place and continue to assist those people who inspired her to enter the property management field in the first place.

Going forward

Cheryl has now completed all her required education and is preparing to sit for the Capstone Track, her final step to becoming a CPM. She believes that IREM coursework has given her the tools to provide greater help to those in need. The IREM Foundation has empowered Cheryl to move her properties forward and ensure stable communities. Her long-term goals include investment management and economic revitalization for the portfolio in her care—and her IREM education positions her for success.

Maggie Callahan

Jo D. Miller is celebrating her 20th year as the executive director of the IREM Houston Chapter and has been a board member of the IREM Foundation since 2018. She believes a huge part of her role at IREM is encouraging and inspiring members’ career growth through IREM education, certification and volunteer leadership.

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