Residents, developers, and supporters of non-profit affordable housing lost a champion last week with the passing of Bob Pohlman, founding executive director of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development (CNHED) and former director of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development.
Pohlman’s legacy will long outlive his years of service to the cause about which he cared so much. Members of the Jubilee community who worked alongside him recalled his tenacity, his savvy, and his passion.
“He was a visionary,” said Martin Mellett, who, prior to coming to Jubilee, worked at LISC DC and funded CNHED under Pohlman’s leadership. “He also understood that there had to be some level of political reality to carry the vision forward. He looked for what was possible and, then, was tenacious about moving it forward,” said Mellett, now Jubilee’s vice president of Strategic Initiatives.
Jubilee Executive Director Jim Knight described Pohlman as a “fierce fighter.” “He was a central figure in establishing initial funding for the city’s Housing Production Trust Fund and then, later, in creating the Housing for All Campaign, which significantly increased capitalization of the fund,” said Knight, who served as CNHED board president for four years during Pohlman’s tenure there.
“He also helped develop the Local Rent Support Program (LRSP) and the Site Acquisition Funding Initiative by bringing affordable housing practitioners together with city officials and lenders. He was able to unite diverse stakeholders to achieve a shared outcome.”
Brian Adams, a resident of Jubilee’s Mozart building, was one of the stakeholders who Pohlman inspired. “He taught me about advocacy and gave me lots of opportunities to speak for those who don’t have a voice” Adams said.
“He trusted me to speak on behalf of CHNED. I didn’t always follow a script, but that didn’t matter to Bob—as long as the message came through,” Adams said.
Knight credits Pohlman with understanding—ahead of others—the power of people and making sure city officials heard from people who would live in the new affordable homes as well as other voters.
Mellett remembers how Pohlman—who previously served as D.C.’s deputy mayor for Finance and chief financial officer—always knew the numbers in the budget better than anyone else. “Numbers mattered to him. He understood that if there weren’t enough funds to ensure a successful outcome, talk of affordable housing was just an empty promise,” Mellett said.
After almost 25 years in the D.C. government, Pohlman also knew the people. “Bob was known to mayors and council members,” Knight said. “He was always listened to—not always followed, but always listened to—and that gave the CNHED credibility and access.”
“I knew his passion. His passion was as strong as mine,” said Adams. “Affordable housing and economic development mattered deeply to Bob. He made them his life. It was an honor to work with someone like that.”
A service commemorating Pohlman’s life will be held on Saturday, May 19, at 2 p.m., at Christ Lutheran Church, 5101 16th Street NW.