The Commitment to Building a Better Future Together: Reflections on the First OC Housing Leaders Forum

On May 23rd, we hosted the first OC Housing Leaders Forum & fundraising reception in support of People for Housing OC. Our turnout was exceptional, where our attendees ranged in professions in the fields of development, legal, architecture, public administration, planning, and finance — their presence was a testament to the importance of our collective efforts and the vital work we are doing together to push for more affordable housing in Orange County.

 

This event would not have been possible without our generous supporters: 

JTECC, National CORE, Avalon Bay, Hoffman Land Company, Jamboree Housing,  Related, Stonefield Development, Irvine Community Land Trust, NEXT Architecture, Marlo Naber Public Affairs, Inc., City Ventures, Melia Homes, and Jager Development Company.

 

And finally, a most special thank you to our board members: Ryan Aeh, Board Chair; Nishtha Mohendra, Vice Chair; David Smith; Antonia Castro-Graham; Jeff Gibson; Rodolfo Mora; Rona Henry; and Board Member Emeritus, Daniel Gehman, AIA.

This gathering was more than just an event; it was a convergence of shared goals and passions for building a more affordable and equitable Orange County. We reflected on the mission that drove the founding of People for Housing OC: creating a future where everyone in Orange County has access to stable, affordable housing so more families can build their lives and careers in the place they call home. This mission has been our consistent guiding principle. 

Our theme for the evening, “Housing on the Offensive,” highlighted the opportunities and challenges in the ongoing fight to build more affordable and attainable housing options in Orange County. We had the privilege of hearing from incredible moderator and long-time P4H supporter, Eric A. Nelson from Trumark Homes, and our speakers Jennifer Hernandez Esq., Holland & Knight; Matthew Gelfand Esq., Californians for Homeownership; and Kenneth Stahl Esq., Chapman U./Miller Starr Regalia. These featured panelists are at the forefront of strategizing and seeking solutions to the barriers that perpetuate Californina’s chronic housing shortage. Their dedication and expertise were both inspiring and a reminder of the significant impact of unintended consequences of the state’s competing priorities, such as housing policy and climate policy. 

Throughout the night, we were reminded that our work is sustained by the support of generous individual donors of our organization who firmly believe in our mission and vision for Orange County. As we enjoyed the evening, we renewed our commitment to our shared vision. At People for Housing OC, our focus is not on the sticks and bricks of housing but on the people who will live in those homes.

We had the opportunity to spotlight the profiles of residents we had the honor of working with through our grassroots advocacy program, Homes for All. These residents graciously shared their stories and committed to advocating for more affordable housing, highlighting the transformative impact it would have on their communities. These are the people who inspire our work, and we as an organization, remain dedicated to pushing for solutions that ensure Orange County residents can stay in the communities they enrich.

As we continue to be on the offensive in making more housing accessible to all, let us carry forward the spirit of this evening and work together towards our shared goals. Thank you to all who joined us and to those of you who support our work!

Antonia Castro-Graham

Antonia Castro-Graham

Director of Energy Policy and Strategy, Americas for BayWa

Antonia is the Director of Energy Policy and Strategy, Americas for BayWa, a leading renewable energy project developer. Prior to this position she served as Vice President of a Public Affairs firm and spent more than twenty years working in local government. She served as the Deputy City Manager for the City of Fullerton and as the Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Huntington Beach. Ms. Graham led regional efforts and created the Orange County Recycling Market Development Zone and created a working group of cities to study community choice energy, eventually forming the Orange County Power Authority. She holds a BA in Political Science and American Studies and an MPA with a concentration in Public Finance from Cal State Fullerton (CSUF) as well as a a Master’s degree in Sustainability from Arizona State University. Ms. Graham also teaches courses focused on sustainability policy at CSUF and Cal Poly Pomona. Ms. Graham recently had a case study published in the book, Sustainable World: Approaches to Analyzing & Resolving Wicked Problems and was selected as the Arizona State University School of Sustainability Alumni of the Year (2018) and the 2022 CSUF MPA Alumni of the Year.

Natalia Hernandez

Natalia Hernandez

Housing Advocacy Community Organizer at People for Housing OC.

Natalia Hernandez serves as the current Housing Advocacy Community Organizer at People for Housing OC. She is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in Political Science and Professional Writing Minor in Civic Engagement which became the foundation of her desire to promote equitable opportunities for marginalized populations. Natalia’s professional history consists of serving as an intern at nonprofit organizations such as The Learning Rights Law Center and The Santa Barbara Public Library Foundation as well as a published writer/editor for The Bottom Line Newspaper in Santa Barbara, CA.

Leonel Velazquez

Leonel Velazquez

Community Liaison at People for Housing OC.

Leonel Velazquez Rodríguez serves as the current Community Liaison at People for Housing OC. Leonel was educated at Cal State University Long Beach through its Community Scholars Program: Policy & Systems Change. Leonel believes that in order to be emphatic with the community, you must learn the community languages. He is a passionate advocate for bringing about systematic change from a culture of oppression to a culture of equity and firmly believes in the power of community voices coming together collectively to work towards a common good.

Jeff Gibson

Jeff Gibson

Communications and Campaign Consultant

Jeff Gibson is a Communications and Campaign Consultant with his firm Occidental Communications Group. Jeff has spent his career fighting to improve the lives of everyday employers, employees, families, and residents in California and across the country. As a longtime non-profit and corporate board member, the organizations he has helped found, lead, and serve have cared for children with cancer in over 200 hospitals globally, expanded physical education programs in more than 100 Southern California schools, and provided more than 1,000 holiday meals to homeless families in Costa Mesa through a door-to-door food drive.

David C. Smith

David C. Smith

Partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

David C. Smith is a Partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, providing legal counsel to land developers, conservation companies, for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and individuals at the intersection of law and government on land use entitlement, real estate development and regulatory compliance. His practice includes California’s climate change law (SB 375, AB 32, et al.) and water supply law (SB 211, SB 610), and state and federal endangered species acts. Other specific areas of focus are the McAteer-Petris Act, the federal Clean Water Act with the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, the National Environmental Policy Act with the California Environmental Quality Act, and California’s planning and zoning laws.

Nishtha Mohindra

Nishtha Mohendra

Chief Program Officer, Families Forward

Nishtha Mohindra is the Chief Program Officer at Families Forward, a nonprofit based in Irvine. Families Forward is dedicated to helping families in crisis regain financial stability and self-sufficiency with resources such as food, housing, counseling, education and other support services. Nishtha has a master’s degree in Social Work and more than 10 years of experience working with adults and families on issues related to homelessness, health, violence against women, mental health and addiction, oppression, and family crises in diverse settings such as the United States, Canada, and India. She currently serves on the Continuum of Care Board for Orange County, recently received the 2022 40 under 40 award from the Irvine Commerce Chamber, and was included on the OC Register's 125 Most Influential list for 2022.

Rona Henry

Rona Henry

Retired, Lingnan Foundation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Chairperson (Volunteer), Welcoming Neighbors Home, an Initiative of Tapestry Unitarian Universalist Congregation

Rona Henry retired from a 30-year career in philanthropy after serving in a variety of roles with including grant management and operations, national program management, program officer, financial officer and staff development. She now works nearly full-time as a volunteer advocate focusing on homelessness and affordable housing through the Welcoming Neighbors Home Initiative, a ministry of Tapestry, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Lake Forest, CA. Through service, education and advocacy, this ministry is striving to end homelessness in South Orange County. Rona is also an advocate for women's reproductive rights.

Daniel Gehman

Daniel Gehman

Principal Architect, Danielian Associates Architects + Planners

Daniel Gehman is the Principal Architect at Danielian Associates Architects + Planners, an architecture and planning firm dedicated to planning and designing trend-setting, forward-thinking homes and sustainable residential communities. Daniel is passionate about multifamily housing, loves working in dense urban and transit oriented environments, is sensitive to attainability, and is a big fan of modular construction solutions.

Ryan Aeh

Ryan Aeh

Senior Vice President, City Ventures

Ryan Aeh is the Senior Vice President, Land Acquisition for City Ventures in Irvine, CA as well as a Board Member on the Irvine Community Land Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to creating permanent and affordable housing in Irvine and Orange County. Ryan’s career over the past 20 years has been dedicated to the development of more than 2,500 homes in Southern California’s supply constrained coastal infill markets with experience in residential and retail real estate development. Notably, Ryan was named “40 Under 40” in Orange County by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce in 2019.