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Sam Dike of Rice Management Company: How We Are Helping To Make Housing More Affordable

An Interview With Jason Hartman

Stay focused on the bigger picture and believe in what you are doing. Results don’t come overnight, and this can be a deterrent for some hardworking people. My advice is to focus on being consistent in your work and continuing to move forward. Eventually, you’ll see the benefits.

In many large cities in the US, there is a crisis caused by a shortage of affordable housing options. This has led to a host of social challenges. In this series called “How We Are Helping To Make Housing More Affordable” we are talking to successful business leaders, real estate leaders, and builders, who share the initiatives they are undertaking to create more affordable housing options in the US.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Dike.

Sam Dike joined Rice Management Company in 2020 as Manager of Strategic Initiatives. In this role, Mr. Dike is responsible for ensuring strategic investments, public policy and external partnerships align with RMC’s core real estate strategy. Mr. Dike received a B.S. in Political Science from the University of Houston and is a Texas Legislative Intern Program (TLIP) Alum.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My name is Sam Dike and I am the Manager of Strategic Initiatives at Rice Management Company (RMC) in Houston. In my role, I ensure that strategic investments, public policy and external partnerships align with RMC’s core real estate investment strategy.

Prior to joining RMC, I was the Vice President of Programs for the Houston Land Bank, where I managed programs to develop affordable housing and oversaw partnership development and intergovernmental relations. Prior to that, I spent nine years on staff at Houston City Council.

I am currently an active in my community and with economic development efforts in Houston, serving as a member of the Board of Directors of Harris County Improvement District #23 and TXRX Labs among others.

My career in public service is driven by my passion for serving people in my community. I love seeing people obtain success. The community and the people that I’ve met along the way continue to inspire me to do more. My community involvement peaked my interest in affordable housing, as well as community and economic development. Building a strong community requires a solid foundation for residents to access economic opportunities and housing that is affordable and sustainable.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I wouldn’t call it a story but rather a moment. The most interesting moment in my career was taking part in the restructuring of the former Land Assemblage Redevelopment Authority into the modern day Houston Land Bank focused on securing distressed properties and stewarding their development for the benefit of the community. Since 2018 the Houston Land Bank has returned over a hundred tax-delinquent properties back to the tax-rolls by providing affordable home-ownership to eligible affordable homebuyers.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

Personally, the tipping point in my career was when I stopped worrying about my job and focused more on doing my job. I find the most success I’ve had in my career was when I focused on becoming a consistent learner; focused on learning as much as I can about how systems work in different environments and identifying and finding ways to address the root of causes of issues affecting people in my community.

The biggest takeaway I can share is that being pragmatic helps to balance the good and the bad that comes with anything you do or are faced with. Pragmatism is understanding that success is not always getting what you expected but recognizing that unexpected results can also be incredibly valuable in your journey to a successful outcome. It is also recognizing and accepting that not everyone you encounter will share your same passion or interest and that it’s ok, people with differing passions and interests are no less valuable to your work and life. The world can be seen through different lenses and it’s often helpful to put yourself in another person’s shoes if only for a moment, when trying to discover the best approach to address the challenges in the world around you.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people that have helped me get to where I am now! Outside of my wonderful family, I am grateful for my first two bosses that I worked with right out of college in helping me progress and grow in my career.

My first boss working for the City of Houston, was Stephen Costello, a former City Council Member who is now the Chief Recovery Officer at the City of Houston. As a young professional just starting out my career, Steve gave me the opportunity to work in his office and work with communities and residents from all across Houston. Steve’s pragmatic leadership and commitment to Houston’s future was inspiring. My second boss, Jerry Davis, a former Vice Mayor Pro-Tem of the City of Houston, took a chance on a young City staffer and made me his chief of staff. Jerry was instrumental in pushing me and the rest of the staff to work outside of our comfort zone and take a more hands-on approach to understanding and solving challenges faced by our constituents. By example and instruction, I learned how to advocate passionately and effectively for the communities we served.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Several years ago, I listened to Admiral William McRaven’s commencement address to the University of Texas graduating class of 2014. A portion of his speech highlighted the importance of starting off your day right by making your bed; in short, the basis of this part of the speech was to emphasize the difficulty in achieving big goals without a focus on doing the small things that are the foundation for success. This lesson resonates with me, because I’ve seen how a collection of small acts can lead to great success. You never know how a seemingly small gesture may transform someone’s life.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A quote that I often reference is: “Leaders establish the vision for the future and set the strategy for getting there; they cause change. They motivate and inspire others to go in the right direction and they, along with everyone else, sacrifice to get there.” I like this quote, because it reminds me that success is not a coincidence, rather it is born out of an intentional and committed effort and often requires difficult personal decisions and or sacrifices. The quote also reminds me of how important the power of our example is to those who we seek to influence or inspire. The example of our actions can be even more impactful than the words we speak.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the shortage of affordable housing. Lack of affordable housing has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities. I know this is a huge topic, but for the benefit of our readers can you briefly explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

There are several things at work here. After the housing crash of 2008, spurred the Great Recession, the proceeding unemployment and credit markets tightening affected homebuyer demand and in turn, many smaller builders and developers struggled to stay afloat ultimately resulting in the dissolution or consolidation of many builders and developers. As the economy improved and credit expanded, the single family-homes produced by the builders who emerged from the recession did not align with the growing demand for affordable housing in the marketplace resulting in more prospective buyers competing for a limited supply of affordably priced homes in the market. This shift in supply and demand pushed prices higher for single-family homebuyers.

On the rental side, the available supply has not kept up with demand for affordable units and this has been exacerbated by the general decline of direct government subsidies for affordable housing units. The primary source of subsidy for affordable rental units is now the Low Income Housing Tax Credit LIHTC which helps to cover most but not all of the cost of developing new affordable rental units. This gap in the cost of development is largely filled by debt financing which for community development corporations and other nonprofit housing developers may be difficult to obtain at a low-cost to make an affordable housing development financially viable and ultimately serve to be a major barrier to initiating affordable housing developments.

In short, the high demand for affordable housing has not been matched with the availability of affordable housing units in the market. With less developers and builders building less units with less subsidies available, has resulted in less units in the market for an affordable price. Rising cost of land prices due to market competition and land speculation has also led to today’s rising cost of developing both multifamily and single-family homes. Finally, it should be noted that in some areas, existing housing policies have worked to discourage the development of affordable housing thereby increasing the scarcity of development opportunities and increasing the price of development of affordable housing.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact to address this crisis? Can you share some of the initiatives you are leading to help correct this issue?

RMC is leading the development of a 16-acre innovation district in Houston’s Midtown area that will drive Houston’s innovation ecosystem. The Ion is designed to promote the diversification of Houston’s economy and workforce while expanding economic opportunities that build generational wealth and support the foundation of strong communities. RMC is committed to working with community stakeholders, city officials, and housing experts to extend and target capital in ways that meaningfully support solutions to the ongoing housing affordability challenges faced by Houston-area renters and homeowners.

The development of the district will also generate tens of millions of dollars in tax increment legally required to be dedicated for the development of affordable housing. The incremental tax dollars will support the preservation and development of affordable housing in neighborhoods adjacent to The Ion District.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

I’m proud to work with a team of individuals and community leaders who are focused on solutions to real-world challenges. Affordable Housing has been a challenge for many communities across the U.S. for years, and our team is committed to working with stakeholders to identify opportunities where RMC is best positioned to contribute as a valuable community partner.

In your opinion, what should other home builders do to further address these problems?

Two questions we need to address is what can we do to incentivize builders and maintain affordability long term. For starters, home builders should first address the initial barriers home buyers face and look at affordability overall as part of a continuum. Today, most people are finding themselves with a home that was affordable years back but is now unaffordable. Due to rising payments and an economy that is not raising some homeowners’ incomes, people are having to leave their homes in search for cheaper options.

Innovation in homebuilding will always be needed to ensure that new units can be developed that are affordable and sustainable. Two areas, in particular, could be a focus for homebuilders:

  1. Supporting efforts to reduce the initial barrier of entry for a prospective homebuyer. The sales price for a home can be an enormous hurdle to overcome for a first-time homebuyer, but a few efforts could help address this hurdle. One by creating a mix of new housing units that include more housing units that are right-sized for the entry-level homebuyer, this means confronting an unpopular action of reversing the trend growing the average home square-footage and right-sizing for entry-level buyers, thereby allowing more prospective homebuyers to find obtain a more affordable option for homeownership. Homebuilders could seek to build stronger relationships with homebuyer counseling and support agencies that provide prospective homebuyers with advice and financial assistance to reduce the initial costs barrier of purchasing a new home.
  2. Develop and support programs that promote long-term affordability for homebuyers. Builders have continued to innovate and find ways to make homes more energy-efficient and low-maintenance and those investments should continue to be made across all types of housing developments to reduce the overall cost for homeownership and enabling a homebuyer to maintain their home over time. Builders could also seek to make newly developed homes available to non-traditional homebuyers through partnerships with community land trust or other programs that support long-term affordability.

Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this crisis? Can you give some examples?

From a societal perspective, we need to be open to a mix of housing development types that provide options for individuals seeking affordable housing. We can do this and still respect the character of our neighborhoods. As mentioned above, the more options we provide to the community, the better it is for achieving affordability.

Nimbyism is a challenge to developments taking place in a local area, and needs to be confronted as a society to address the lack of affordable housing options

If you had the power to influence legislation, are there laws which you would like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

If I had the power to influence legislation, I would like to consider the following policy initiatives to help create affordable housing:

I believe there should be policies that make it easier for public entities to secure distressed properties plaguing communities and to be made available for affordable housing. These public entities can include land banks and land trusts. This will give the public the foundation to shape development in their communities and fight destructive land speculation.

To support homeowners, we need to reevaluate policies for how property assessments are calculated, especially given that taxes affect people’s ability to afford a home. Specifically providing additional tools for local governments to provide tax savings for existing homeowners, would be beneficial in helping residents maintain their homes. Additionally, it would be helpful to have incentives for property owners who are committed to keeping housing units affordable.

Lastly, policies for increasing subsidies for affordable housing. Adding additional subsidies are important but it should also look at adding flexibility to how those subsidies are deployed to incentivize quality and affordable housing and prioritize getting people into houses.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each. 5 things that I’ve learned that are valuable for success.

  1. Listen holistically. People are different and as a result, often communicate differently. How a person intends to communicate may not always be how another receives that communication. I’ve learned the value of paying attention to verbal and nonverbal communication when trying to understand what someone is trying to communicate. This has a transformational effect on relationship building, resulting in more personal and less robotic exchanges.
  2. Take the time to educate yourself. Personally, I find the most success when I am learning as much as I can on the issues and the subject matter affecting my community.
  3. Stay focused on the bigger picture and believe in what you are doing. Results don’t come overnight, and this can be a deterrent for some hardworking people. My advice is to focus on being consistent in your work and continuing to move forward. Eventually, you’ll see the benefits.
  4. Be adaptable. There are situations in life that may be beyond our control, but we have much more control over how we react to life’s circumstances. I’ve learned that it is important to give yourself and others some room to change.
  5. Success is a team effort. I’ve found that the success of a company is directly correlated to its leadership and the group itself. We’re only as good as the team of people we have around.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Build better pathways to success for children in K-12. Public education should focus on supporting specific outcomes that help our students obtain a job, start a business or continue their education, not just graduate high school.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Denzel Washington. Denzel is obviously an incredible on-screen talent, but I have always appreciated the way that he has carried himself in his personal life; never allowing his fame and environment to overrule his personal conviction for what he wants to achieve in life as legacy. Denzel has always appeared to be focused on being the man he was destined to be. I think that’s admirable.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

To follow the work that we are doing at The Ion on housing affordability, please visit www.houinnovate.com. There you can find reading materials and previous presentations that dive into how we are building affordable housing in Houston. The website also includes information on how we are strengthening Houston’s economic resiliency and competitiveness by attracting and retaining innovative talent, companies and institutions.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.

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