Nonprofits help New Yorkers launch careers in real estate management—with a public health twist
Quetuwrha (pronounced “Katara”) Perkins, 28, is a leasing manager at RY Management, which owns properties including the 568-unit affordable condominium complex where she works in East New York — the exact neighborhood where she lives in New York City grew up Louis Pink Houses of the housing authority. The core of her job is managing the people’s tenancy process, including compiling the documentation that New York City Housing Development Corp. needed for such affordable rents. But she also often makes small repairs, including extinguished pilot lights and broken doorknobs. She likes her diverse portfolio. “By the time I’m 32, I want to be the regional manager of this company,” she said.
But she’s not just ambitious — she also wants to help her renters live their best, healthiest lives. So she jumped at the chance when she heard through her local council about a New York State real estate management certification scholarship with a focus on community health offered by Brooklyn Communities Collaborative, a nonprofit organization at Maimonides Medical Center. She is now an official East New York and Property Management and Stewardship of the Built Environment Fellow.
This means that she now knows even more about things that she has already learned in her job. This includes removing mold and debris to prevent asthma and other respiratory illnesses, maintaining certifications and building inspections, working with vendors to resolve plumbing and electrical issues, and improving sanitation, waste management, and safety.
“It was an easy decision” to take the scholarship, she said. “I respected the program’s focus on both physical and mental health and how much we can improve the quality of life for people.” Perkins entered the program with two of four certifications offered — one in property management and one in green construction management. (The other two work in landlord/tenant law and healthy living.) The certifications together would have cost her $525 if she had done them alone; BCC also gave her and the other grantees a $1,000 stipend to reflect their time in the program.
Although she was already involved in day-to-day property management, the certifications opened her eyes, she says. “I’ve learned how small decisions we have to make every day play a big part in the overall health of our residents — daylight, for example,” she said. She refers to the fact that many common areas within a complex, such as the laundry room in the complex where she works, are adequately lit by daylight and the complex can save money by not using lightbulbs until dusk or after dark.
“Or get maintenance to buy cleaners with less ammonia or chemicals with strong odors that make people sick,” she said. “I don’t want to use a floor cleaner where we have to put up signs telling residents not to touch the floor for 24 hours.” Another big thing she learned, she said, is how to use the social Space within a complex is maximized and programmed to alleviate the loneliness strongly associated with depression and anxiety.
“Now,” she said, “I want every decision I make to be something that benefits the tenants.”
According to Gretchen Susi, associate director of the BCC, the idea for the grant arose from the findings of a recent participatory action research study conducted by BCC in Bed-Stuy, East New York and Brownsville. Over 2,000 residents were reached through the ballot initiative, she said, and the results indicated that safe, secure and healthy housing was a high priority area for community members. “Through the PAR report and discussions with developers,” she said, “the need for health and community-focused property managers and housing workers was recognized — and BCC developed the grant to train and certify community members.”
Recruitment for the fellowships began in September 2022 and was done in partnership with East New York Restoration LDC. The pilot grant officially launched last November and was funded with $37,500 from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation. Last December, 15 scholarship holders were certified; BCC is currently raising funds to support a second cohort.
“The real purpose of this program is to empower residents of Bed-Stuy, Brownsville and East New York to be agents in improving their neighborhoods and addressing the direct link between health and housing,” said Sue. “By training members of the community in property management and administration and allowing them to build careers around them, they are building civic and physical infrastructure in their neighborhoods.”
That’s exactly what Perkins is doing from the position of her pre-existing job. Since receiving certifications through the BCC program, she has persuaded the VP at her workplace to approve the cessation of the use of lightbulbs in the laundry and mailrooms when they are filled with daylight. “They just turn the lights off during the day and people don’t even realize they’re off,” she said. “The old paint,” she said, “you could blow on it and it would chip off, which is dangerous, but the paint we’re using now is fantastic.”
Her crowning achievement so far is the reopening of the senior center, which had been closed since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as a place for the complex’s elderly to gather and exercise together. “My next big thing is the reopening of the youth center, which is supposed to happen in a few weeks,” she said. “Parents are less stressed when they know where their children are and that they are moving and having a good time.”
Yes, she admits, even the smallest changes cost money. “I have to be mindful of costs and there’s always bureaucracy, but even if something can’t be done right away, my boss says, ‘Let’s figure out the numbers and how and when we can get this going,'” she says.
And that, she said, is a good feeling. “Property management is the best of both worlds for me because I’ve always enjoyed office work, but I also like interacting with people and making things happen. I’ve worked for nonprofits before,” she said. She used to work at East New York Restoration. “And my thing is to benefit others in ways that really matter. People living in affordable housing in East New York have not always received the best treatment or care from their property managers, and I want to help restore that trust and trust.”