MBA Affordable Housing Partner Spotlight-Debbie Campbell from X-Caliber

(One in a recurring series about MBA CONVERGENCE, the Mortgage Bankers Association’s affordable housing initiative.)

Debbie Campbell

Debbie Campbell, Managing Director, Origination of X-Caliber, Irvington, N.Y., has more than three decades of experience in affordable housing finance and community development. In her role as Managing Director, Origination, she is responsible for providing financing solutions for both affordable and market-rate multifamily, seniors housing & healthcare, the nation’s rural communities and more. From bridge to FHA to Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) to USDA loans, Ms. Campbell has deep expertise in all the firm’s lending products as well as its affiliates’ products to help customize the right solutions for borrowers and property owners.

MBA NewsLink: Why did you join the MBA Affordable Rental Housing Advisory Council?

Debbie Campbell: I joined the Affordable Rental Housing Advisory Council due to my unwavering belief in its pivotal role in addressing the pressing need for affordable housing. Being a council member provides me an invaluable opportunity to continually educate myself, delving deeper into the complexities of housing issues and policy initiatives. It allows me to actively champion the cause of affordable housing, a mission I’m deeply passionate about. I’ve always found fulfillment in policy work, seeking innovative pathways for progress.

I am fortunate to be part of X-Caliber, a prominent direct lender, where aiding in this crisis is ingrained within our core values. Our commitment to expanding our involvement underscores our dedication to substantially impacting this cause.

“Undoubtedly, my most impactful experience through my involvement in the Affordable Rental Housing Advisory Council has been recognizing the value of my firsthand experience with housing challenges.”

MBA NewsLink: What is your affordable housing journey?

Debbie Campbell: My early life experiences shaped the direction and my calling for this work. From the time I was a child, I was keenly aware of housing disparities. For instance, I couldn’t understand why one of my friends, whose parents worked just as hard as mine, lived in a cramped, run-down shack with no heat or indoor plumbing. My mother’s volunteerism and strong sense of fairness helped frame these situations for me and ignited my passion for addressing housing disparities.

When my first husband and I were married, he wanted to rent, but I insisted we become homeowners. We bought our first home with very modest savings and a gift of $1,000 from each of my grandmothers. Our little house cost $19,500, and the interest rate was 19%. I had two goals – keep my mortgage current and build a sense of community and belonging among my neighbors.

I cherished the daily morning call of “howdy neighbor” across the yard from my newly arrived immigrant neighbors, hosting simple picnics, sharing flowers, and building community. I budgeted diligently to make our mortgage payment, sometimes rifling through the car and couch cushions for enough extra change before taking the payment to the bank. My family eventually outgrew the tiny home we had lovingly renovated over the years. We sold it and used the equity we had built as the down payment on a wonderful little farmhouse where our children thrived in a close-knit rural community.

In 1987, my life took an unexpected turn when a fire razed our home, leaving me, a single mother of three, grappling with the aftermath. Understanding the crucial role community support plays in a family’s stability, I embarked on a daunting journey to secure a safe, affordable home for us, despite the reluctance of banks during that era to extend mortgages to self-employed single women.

One lesson I learned was the importance of small hometown banks. I found one who was willing to take a chance on lending to me and was able to find a modest and affordable home. It was a great house with tremendous possibilities but on a street in transition. Most neighbors had raised their families there and were either in declining health or had aged out and were ready for retirement. Much of the street had already begun to turn over to new young families. At one point, over 30 children were living and playing together on our block. However, we quickly realized that serious crime had taken over most of the neighborhood around our idyllic little sanctuary. My children and I went door-to-door and convinced most of our neighbors to stay and work together to make the neighborhood safe for all…and we did. We even became the city’s strongest and most influential neighborhood association and advocated for quality housing and safe neighborhoods.

This experience created a profound commitment to dedicate myself to ensuring that as many others as possible would have access to safe, quality housing they could afford and an opportunity to become part of a thriving community. Our next step was to start a neighborhood homesteading project to match families renting in the neighborhood with homes that went up for sale, especially foreclosures. Our work and partnership with a group of local banks culminated in the founding of Salisbury Neighborhood Housing, where I served as the executive director.

It didn’t take long to realize that access to capital was holding back the critical work of preserving and increasing affordable housing in Salisbury and nationwide. As a result, I made several moves within the NeighborWorks Network, including a secondary mortgage market that provided loan fund liquidity for NeighborWorks organizations and co-founding Community Housing Capital, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), which became one of the country’s largest nonprofit affordable housing loan funds. Community Housing Capital was also an early member of the Federal Home Loan Bank system.

I have committed myself to finding ways to bring more solutions and capital to the field of affordable housing, primarily through collaboration. In 2011, I was honored to be accepted into Harvard’s Achieving Excellence in Community Development Executive Education Program. I spent 18 months with a brilliant cohort of practitioners, elevating my skills and work to the next level.

My move to X-Caliber was a natural next step after more than 20 years within the NeighborWorks network. It continues to be exciting to work with a kind and innovative company where we invest time and resources in making a positive difference, like providing me the opportunity to serve on the Advisory Council, which helps to inform our efforts and allows us to share successes and challenges with others.

MBA NewsLink: How can policy initiatives foster collaboration between public, private, and nonprofit sectors to maximize the impact of affordable housing efforts?

Debbie Campbell: Effective policy initiatives play a pivotal role in fostering robust collaboration among the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, amplifying the impact of affordable housing efforts. Encouraging partnerships between these sectors is crucial for preserving existing housing stock and developing new inventory. While Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) loan funds serve as invaluable sources of capital, their capacity is often limited for larger loans. Policy approaches facilitating short-term bridge loans leading to permanent financing, such as through FHA products, hold particular promise in addressing this gap.

MBA NewsLink: What strategies can be implemented to ensure the long-term sustainability and preservation of existing affordable housing apartments?

Debbie Campbell: I believe we need aproaches that allow borrowers to assemble the best possible capital stack in a way that responds to the needs of each specific deal, rather than a cookie-cutter approach, are critical.

At the top of my list is bridge financing for land acquisition and predevelopment to allow time for processing a HUD 221(D)4.

The other is bridge financing for acquiring operating properties that need to be improved and stabilized or re-syndicated before exiting to a HUD 223(f).

These strategies address one of the severe challenges that impede affordable developers from accessing the great rates associated with FHA financing and securing the long-term financing needed to create and preserve affordable properties. Finding both products in one place is relatively unusual, which I’m particularly proud of at X-Caliber. We’ve also launched additional verticals such as C-PACE, USDA OneRD and an Advisory Firm to allow borrowers to access all they need through a single group, which creates efficiency and savings, and is less stressful for borrowers.