Globe 100 Innovators | Real Estate and Development

Where the heart is

Mass. Housing Partnership's Clark Ziegler is top real estate innovator

Clark Ziegler Clark Ziegler (Illustration by Joel Kimmel for The Boston Globe)
May 22, 2011

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1. Clark Ziegler, executive director, Massachusetts Housing Partnership Clark Ziegler, 55, has been with the Massachusetts Housing Partnership since 1985, when the public nonprofit was created by then-Governor Michael Dukakis to address the state’s affordable housing needs. He took the helm as executive director in 1990, when Massachusetts became the first state to require companies acquiring local banks to lend money to the organization for affordable rental housing.

Since then, the partnership has helped to fund the creation of 17,000 rental units in the state with a loan pool that has grown to $1.1 billion. The agency also helps administer what is known as the “soft second loan program,’’ which helps low- and moderate-income home buyers purchase their first homes through fixed-rate private mortgages complemented by a smaller public subsidy. The program has helped more than 15,000 families purchase their first homes.

Ziegler said the agency is now working to help free up financing for nonprofit developers. Working with the philanthropic Boston Foundation, the agency has created a $6 million insurance fund to allow nonprofits to use their cash reserves to build more much-needed projects.

Over the years, Ziegler said, he’s learned never to stand down to the state’s growing housing demands. “I’ve managed to stay energized in looking for new ways to have an impact,’’ he said.

– Jenifer B. McKim

2. Paul Willen, senior economist and policy adviser, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston For those who blame Wall Street insiders for the global financial crisis, saying they devised risky home loans that went bad, busting the housing bubble, and sending an over-leveraged financial sector into freefall: Fed economist Paul Willen, 42, doesn't buy it.

"The story does not fit the facts," he said. "To this day, there are many unanswered questions about the subprime mortgage crisis."

In trying to answer those questions, Willen takes an intellectual buzzsaw to the popular image of loan sharks preying on unsuspecting, low-income families seeking the American dream.

Subprime loans had been used for 30 years in California with little or no crisis, he said, so they alone aren't to blame for a collapse in property values. Traders who bundled the loans in mortgage-backed securities also knowingly accepted the gamble for its greater returns, he said, but there's yet another factor to consider.

Willen is now looking at data suggesting the psychological dampening effect on mortgage holders from falling real estate prices was a major factor in the crisis. Even debtors who were able to pay became reluctant to service a loan when their house's value was falling precipitously, he said.

Willen's analyses might one day help policymakers prepare for another possible downturn. "When housing prices are rising or stable, then personal problems don't turn into defaults," he said. "That's the key."

– John Dyer

3. Kathy Condon, chief executive, Multiple Listing Service-Property Information Network Kathy Condon likes a quick turnaround; but, she said, many businesses that offer comprehensive directories of homes for sale in a particular area are often run by associations of realtors who make decisions via slow-moving committees.

So the chief executive of Multiple Listing Service-Property Information Network in Shrewsbury is glad to be running an independent MLS.

"When something new comes up, we can accommodate new developments more quickly, because we aren't a MLS association that is going back to a number of boards for approval," she said.

The approach has proved innovative. Globe 100 judges said Condon, 55, took a bare-bones database service when she become chief executive in 1998 and turned it into an powerful research and marketing machine.

Part of the success is how Condon has harnessed the power of the Internet. She developed her own software for maintaining listing, called H3MLS, that allows vendors to simply log onto the site and list their house without a middleman. The company is unveiling a new version of the software this year, called Pinergy.

The system draws eyeballs. MLS-PIN had around 11,000 subscribers when Condon took over. Now they have almost 30,000.

– John Dyer

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