Pierre Downing has built his career on making sure New Yorkers who need it have affordable housing. He currently serves as vice president of Affordable Housing at Monadnock Development. The company has rehabilitated thousands of apartment units in the city in affordable and mixed-use buildings.
TV fans might recognize Downing from his appearance in the 2009 BET reality series “Harlem Heights” as a cast member. The show documented the lives of a group of Black 20-something young professionals living and working in Harlem.
Today, Downing is part of a team of several people creating more affordable housing. A Harlem resident, Downing was born in Trenton, N.J. and knows firsthand how important having an affordable place to call home is because he lived the experience. Downing grew up in a single-parent home in public housing and Section 8 housing.
“I grew up in Prospect Village projects and after my mother got a housing voucher we moved to a two-bedroom apartment,” he said during an interview. “My mother carried the torch for my brother and I in the household. My brother and I wanted to do better. She pushed education like no other and we subscribed to it.”
Downing was the first in his family to graduate from college earning his degree in Business Economics from Merrimack College in Massachusetts where he excelled on the school’s basketball team. After graduating, he took his first job at the New Jersey Housing Mortgage and Finance Agency where he realized he saw the work that needed to be done.
“During my time there I realized that this is a business. It’s a full-blown industry,” Downing said. “I was completely ignorant to the notion of someone owning affordable housing and that being their profession. Every state has an affordable housing requirement and an agency that’s responsible for implementing those requirements and I was able to learn the basics of real estate finance.”
Downing moved to New York with original aspirations of being an actor but fate had other plans. He ended up continuing his rewarding work in affordable housing working at The Local Initiatives Support Corporation as a community development officer. At the time, due to an economic recession, housing in the city shifted towards preserving affordable housing units.
“I really learned the ins and outs of New York City affordable housing and its agencies,” he said. “I worked on some of the large-scale affordable housing preservation initiatives that had been deployed at the time as a consultant working with nonprofit and for-profit developers.”
In 2013, Downing hit a crossroads when he began to realize the value he was creating for developers. He created his own consulting company Kalel Holdings.
He left LISC to work for Notias Construction, Inc. where he served as director of Real Estate Acquisitions and Business Development. During his five years with the company, Downing generated over $200 million in new business and managed the redevelopment of over 1,200 housing units of affordable housing.
His success landed him his current position at Monadnock Development as their VP of Affordable Housing while operating his own company. Downing is part of NYCHA’s Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) Renaissance Collaborative (PRC) involving several developers and community agencies working together.
The program is part of a Rental Assistance Demonstration Program funded through the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development. PRC is repairing and rehabilitating more than 1,700 units across 16 developments in Manhattan and helping 3,000 residents through NYCHA.
“For every family that I help I see my family,” he said. “That’s why I do it. I’m a beneficiary of affordable housing. When I see a mother in tears because of the change that happened right in front of her eyes, or a kid who’s in their new room, there’s a shift in their self-esteem. Once it’s done, the reward is the smiles and that’s what keeps me going.”
Downing added that the next mayoral administration needs to be more stringent in expanding affordable housing in the city when it comes to zoning laws. He also says that income brackets for affordable housing need to include middle-income families that are being priced out.
“There’s always been a demonstrated need for affordable housing not only in New York City but nationally,” Downing said. “Because of the income disparities that exist here in New York, low-income earners have not been afforded the same opportunities as others due to some of the institutional issues that plague lower-income communities as a whole. In New York, everyone wants to live here and they’re willing to pay more but what happens to those who cannot pay more? They start to get pushed out.”
Along with his work in affordable housing, Downing is also the co-owner of the Lower East Side bar Las’ Lap.