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NHC mourns the passing of Stephen Coyle, former CEO of the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust (HIT) on December 18 at his home in Vienna, Virginia.  Steve was a long-time friend and benefactor of NHC, encouraging two HIT officers, myself and Helen Kanovsky (later HUD Chief General Counsel), to serve as board members and board chairs.  He appreciated that the American Labor Movement was one of the original advocates for a national affordable housing program, beginning with its leadership in the founding of NHC in 1931 and fighting for enactment of the National Housing Act in 1934.

Steve served as CEO of the Trust from 1992 until his retirement in 2018.  Under his leadership, the HIT grew from less than $530 million in assets to more than $6 billion, leading investment of union pension funds in construction of low and moderate housing across the country, all built with union labor.  He was a champion of working men and women, ensuring that the people who live in affordable housing have safe, decent and affordable homes; and, that the people who build affordable housing have safe, decent jobs, on which they can support a family and make a career, as well as a dignified retirement.

During his 26 years at the HIT, he financed construction of 435 projects, building 99,000 homes and creating over 67,000 on-site union construction jobs.  These projects totaled more than $14 billion in development investment, and over $28 billion in economic impact.  Just as impressive as these numbers, was Steve’s creation of innovative initiatives to achieve them.

Shortly after becoming the HIT’s CEO, Steve convinced Congress to create an entirely new program, the Community Investment Demonstration Program, leveraging pension fund investment in affordable housing with Section 8 project-based rental assistance.   The HIT matched $115 million of this assistance, by far the most of any investor, to finance construction of 18 projects in ten states across the country.  The developments reached from rural Maine to permanent supportive housing in downtown Atlanta at the time of the 1996 Olympics, to new apartments in the Texas border region, to rebuilding South Los Angeles in the wake of the 1992 riots.

After 9/11, Steve created the New York City Community Investment Initiative, investing more than $1 billion in the city at a time when capital and investment firms were fleeing.  This initiative established the HIT as the “first responder” to financial crises.  In the wake of the Great Recession, at a time when unemployment in many building trades locals exceeded 50%, Steve created the Construction Jobs Initiative to put 15,000 tradespeople back to work.  By 2011, the HIT was financing more than 10% of all rental housing in the United States.

Before becoming the HIT’s CEO, Steve was Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) from 1984 to 1992.  Steve was able to harness Boston’s emerging growth in the high-tech, health care, and finance industries to enable the city’s physical, economic, and social transformation.  As an expert city builder, he was always focused on growth that created opportunities for people from every neighborhood and background.

He conceived and accomplished two unique real estate “linkage” programs. A Housing Linkage program required developers of large scale office and institutional projects to fund affordable housing in neighborhoods across the city, building thousands of new affordable homes in dozens of locations.  A Parcel-to-Parcel Linkage program required developers of downtown publicly-owned sites to provide equity – real estate equity – to local minority developers, who previously had not had access to these opportunities.  Parcel-to-Parcel Linkage also required these development teams to build high-priority projects in Boston’s neighborhoods, in addition to their downtown developments.

Steve led the multibillion dollar redevelopment of the Charlestown Navy Yard on Boston Harbor.  While developers eyed the Navy Yard for luxury housing development, he insisted that new housing be accessible to low and moderate income families as well.  To that end, he worked with a new nonprofit affiliate of the Bricklayers’ union to build award-winning family affordable housing on the waterfront in the Navy Yard, as well as mixed income developments there.

Just as important as the buildings whose construction he oversaw were the parks and open spaces that Steve created to make downtown accessible and enjoyable for all.  When the Federal Highway Administration required the sale of surface rights on the path of the Big Dig for commercial development, Steve conceived a plan for a new “Emerald Necklace,” a modern version of the Frederick Law Olmsted park plan.  He fought for this new park system and, against long odds, succeeded in creating what is now the Rose Kennedy Greenway.  He required developers of waterfront property to build and extend Boston’s Harborwalk, and he designed and built parks and public spaces throughout the city.

A son of South Boston, the tenth of 14 children, Steve began his career in affordable housing as Executive Director of the Waltham Housing Authority, the working class city in which he grew up.  He later ran another local housing authority before becoming Executive Assistant to HUD Secretary Patricia Harris.  As Mrs. Harris’ Executive Assistant, he spearheaded the nation’s most prolific period of affordable housing production, building more than 400,000 units annually.

He was later Deputy Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  In 1981, he became Executive Vice President of the architecture and planning firm John Warnecke & Associates in San Francisco while attending Stanford Law School.  Among his proudest accomplishments was his creation of the Ulster Community Investment Fund, bringing economic development to Northern Ireland as a means of fostering and deepening peace.

Steve’s influence extends far beyond his own work, to the vast number of people in our industry whom he employed, mentored, and advised – all of whom he cared about deeply, professionally as well as personally.  His “coaching tree” extends to the worlds of finance, community development, workers’ rights, urban planning, law, and people in many other fields, including myself.

His sense of right and wrong was unerring; his dedication to service was complete.  Soon after I went to work for Steve at the BRA right out of law school, I referred to the agency’s legal powers and authorities.  Steve immediately corrected me, saying “We do not have powers and authorities; we have responsibilities and obligations.”  I can think of no better summation of Steve’s perspective of how to apply his extraordinary talents, and how to treat others.

Steve and Maria (Chaffee), an accomplished lawyer, married after meeting as Brandeis undergraduates.  Our hearts go out to her, to their children Lisa, Will, and Elena, and to their five grandchildren, Evan, Elise, Maria, Julia, and Jaime.  We will all miss Steve terribly and are grateful for having had him in our lives.





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