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Sonyia Turner

July 10, 2019

DFI Community Revitalization Fellow, Master’s Candidate, City and Regional Planning, UNC-Chapel Hill

“Real estate developer,” said Sonyia Turner, when asked what she wants to do next in her career. She has clearly given this a lot of thought. Since graduating from N.C. State with a degree in architecture, Turner has been working in fields related to community development to try to hone her skills and find her passion.

Turner spent eight years with King’s Park International Church in Durham as administrator and later as director, a position extremely attuned to the community and congregation it serves. She executed a couple of largescale design projects for the organization. “I like the fun of project management. I enjoy moving from idea to full creation of something,” said Turner. “I think that comes from my architecture background. I like the big picture, and I get energized by tangible bite-sized pieces.”

It’s no surprise, then, that she was drawn to the art and science of city planning. At an open house for UNC-Chapel Hill’s Master of City and Regional Planning program, Turner came across representatives of DFI. New to the idea of working with local governments, Turner said she was intrigued by the prospect of using public investment to catalyze economic development.

She took Tyler Mulligan’s community revitalization course; she enjoyed the rigor and cared that the work impacted actual clients. Now in her final semester of her degree program, Tuner has worked on more real estate projects. “The work that DFI does is extremely catalytic, not only for the communities but for the individuals who work there,” said Turner. She helped identify a potential location for a health center in Kinston, and a predevelopment analysis and master planning process for 100 acres of raw land in Wake Forest, among others. “It broadened my horizons…The work is hard and weighty, and it will impact generations.”

It broadened my horizons… The work is hard and weighty, and it will impact generations.


-Sonyia Turner

Matthew Hutton

July 10, 2019

Senior Research Analyst for the Workforce Development Board of Philadelphia (Philadelphia Works)

A native of Trinity, North Carolina, Matthew Hutton is no stranger to small town challenges. After his undergraduate work at UNC Greensboro, Hutton worked for a hotel and land development company, getting his feet wet in what it means for communities to invest in properties. The experience inspired Hutton to explore pursuing a master of public administration degree.

“I wanted to come at it from the other side, and see how local governments might be able to influence developers to make more sustainable and equitable choices,” said Hutton. His first encounter with DFI/UNC-Chapel Hill MPA alumnus Ricky Ruvio sealed the deal. Ricky, a student at the time, talked at an MPA open house event about how he was working with DFI on a hotel development project. “It was one of the main reasons I actually ended up choosing UNC,” said Hutton.

Hutton then became a dual-degree student with the Master of City and Regional Planning program, and worked with DFI for two years as a Community Revitalization Fellow. “You’re actually doing the research that is going to influence how this community makes a decision. So the value in that is pretty big, especially for a student.”

He has already had substantive work experiences with DFI, including an affordable housing needs assessment in downtown Durham. He explored data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the American Community Survey to determine how much affordable housing is needed in Durham and at what levels of income. “I really love just digging into the data,” said Hutton. “I never had that opportunity before to look at a lot of different data sources and try to build out a narrative based on numbers. What is household income and potential population growth? What does that mean for future development opportunity?”

Since graduating from UNC with his Masters degrees, Hutton has started a new role focused on labor market research. His time with DFI developed an appreciation for the intersection between public and private sectors. “At the end of the day, public investment and private development are two sides of the same coin, and both are necessary to advance economic growth.” He hopes that more students like him can work with DFI. “Future public leaders then would have a better knowledge of economic development, what their role is, and how they can influence sustainability in the future.”

I wanted to come at it from the other side, and see how local governments might be able to influence developers to make more sustainable and equitable choices.

-Matthew Hutton

Jonathan Peterson

July 10, 2019

Real Estate Associate – Development, Self-Help Credit Union

As far as DFI is concerned, it was love at first sight for Jonathan Peterson. Peterson was admitted to UNC for a Master’s in City and Regional Planning and heard a student present her DFI project at an open house. “I just fell in love with the concept of being a consultant for local government, doing real estate development for public service… I knew then I wanted to go to UNC and that I wanted to become a DFI Fellow,” he said.

Peterson said of his DFI training, “It really challenged me in ways I don’t feel like I’ve been challenged before. When I first started, I knew how to work Excel, but I didn’t know how to build financial models.” This experience has helped Peterson in his role at Self-Help Ventures Fund, where he is working on community development and affordable housing projects in Durham and Greensboro.

His tenure as a development associate allowed Peterson to be mentored by DFI project managers. “I had some great mentors, who took the time, time they didn’t have to take, to really provide guidance and be a sounding board for future plans.” Peterson noted that even before he became a Fellow, DFI faculty director Tyler Mulligan sat down with him for “two hours, learning my story.”

Peterson hopes that one day he can bring the skills he first developed at DFI back to his home state of Mississippi. “It’s been awesome to see all the things happening here . . . My time at both DFI and at Self-Help are helping me develop a critical lens in development, so when I go back to Mississippi, I can help out there.

It really challenged me in ways I don’t feel like I’ve been challenged before.


-Jonathan Peterson

Ricky Ruvio

July 10, 2019

Business Analyst, City of Winston-Salem

Ricky Ruvio has spent his career serving communities in North Carolina. A native of Dobson, Ruvio said that he has seen how smaller communities struggle to foster economic development. “I come from a small rural area … I’ve seen some of the hurdles that these smaller communities are experiencing.”

Prior to graduate school, Ruvio worked in Caldwell County for the Carolina College Advising Corps, helping first generation, low-income students attend college. But his work with DFI influenced his career choice. “It was incredibly meaningful and very formative. It dragged me into the career path that I ended up choosing and gave me a really high level understanding of local government real estate.”
After working on DFI projects in Shallotte and Elon, Ruvio recently started a job as business analyst for a regional utility run by the City of Winston-Salem, applying many of the skills he learned as a Fellow. “Being able to look at numbers and see where financial investments could be made for the better of the community, and making sure that financial stewardship is at the forefront and a guiding principle of the work that I do—that’s something that I definitely picked up serving as a DFI Fellow. I can look at something and say ‘What are the impacts going to be to the constituents?’”

As a lifelong resident of North Carolina, Ruvio sees himself as a natural constituent of DFI. “I’m a Carolina guy. I was born here. I was an undergraduate here. I went to graduate school here. I did AmeriCorps service here in the state and I work here. So, I’m very much a stakeholder myself. And to be a part of that process of making municipalities in the state better was pretty incredible.”

I’m a Carolina guy. I was born here. I was an undergraduate here. I went to graduate school here. I did AmeriCorps service here in the state and I work here. So, I’m very much a stakeholder myself. And to be a part of that process of making municipalities in the state better was pretty incredible.


-Ricky Ruvio

Stephanie Watkins-Cruz

July 10, 2019

Policy Analyst, Chatham County Manager’s Office, LGFCU Innovation Award Winner

Serving as a DFI Fellow is where the rubber met the road for Stephanie Watkins-Cruz, a 2018 graduate of UNC’s Master of Public Administration and Master of City and Regional Planning programs.

“The past three years has really allowed me to build an understanding of community development.

After working with DFI, not only do I have technical skills in terms of financial modeling and market analysis, but I’ve learned there’s a creative way that you can approach your problem or an issue or a building,” said Watkins-Cruz.

A native of Charlotte, Watkins-Cruz brought a passion for affordable housing to both her graduate study and her work with DFI. She has been assisting with the Initiative’s contract with North Carolina Emergency Management to find opportunities to build affordable housing in communities affected by Hurricane Matthew. She says, “I learned data analysis specifically for affordable housing, which I had not done before. But also, I learned a new way to think about capacity, when we’re looking at this type of project, when we’re trying to put as many units on the ground as possible.”

In addition to her work with DFI, Watkins-Cruz also worked at the Chatham County Council of Aging, contributing to a project that won an Excellence in Innovation Award from LGFCU in 2017. Stephanie organized a partnership of five organizations that created a collaborative database, providing a more efficient way of coordinating minor home repair and modification projects across Chatham County.

Watkins-Cruz’s work has spanned many communities and she believes supporting DFI enables important programs across the state. “You’re investing in the state. We really have projects all over North Carolina and we could have projects really everywhere in North Carolina.”

She is continuing that work in her new role in Chatham County as a policy analyst in the Chatham County manager’s office. “A big part of why I got my next job is because they saw that I’m passionate about affordable housing, but can translate some of the skills gained as a Fellow,” she said.

 

A big part of why I got my next job is because they saw that I’m passionate about affordable housing, but can translate some of the skills gained as a Fellow.


-Stephanie Watkins-Cruz

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