Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bricks and Mortar...

Later today, Adrienne and I will be looking at new space in 801 Roeder Road.

If things work out, we'll be reconsolidating our staff from the 4th and 5th floors to a single site on the 10th.

As we get ready to consider this leap, I find myself thinking about past offices and moves.

In 1999, when I began part-time work to build PHA, our Board's goal was growth to meet the community's needs.  The day I hired an assistant, my wife said it was time for me to go...time leave the home office where I had been so comfortable for the previous six years.  PHA didn't have much money then, so I leased a small office (400 sq. ft.) in Silver Spring, MD.  It was a good spot, within walking distance to Metro, and so a quick ride to Capitol Hill for the legislative work I knew would be coming.

The office itself was not so much.  Besides being small and having cracked floor tiles, I soon found that roaches were our undesireable co-tenants.

It wasn't great but it was what we could afford and it was a place where the work could get started.   Soon we had grown to 5 part-timers.  Since we had only four chairs (and spece for not much more), we rotated staff schedules.  One day, all five of us were in.  I will never forget the site of Michael Vassiliev setting up his laptop on one box and sitting on another one.  You could look at the situation as a mess - or an inspiration.  I think all of us then chose the latter...and we progressed.

In early 2001, I had divested myself of other clients and began working full-time for PHA,  At the same time, with increased funding and board-expanded goals, I was converting the rest of our staff to full time as well.  We moved two blocks north to 1,200 square feet - half a floor - in another small, but I hoped better, building. 

The landlord who ran the building with his children was a legend in Silver Spring.  He was a 90 year-old man who maintained his properties well and had an interest in his tenents, especially folks like us with a social mission.  Soon we were crowding our half floor and expanded to the full floor.  At the same time, the landlord sold the building.  That was a real lesson in the importance of property management for us.

As our workload increased rapidly, our building declined even faster.  Over the next couple of years, we were reduced to keeping a record of our summer (up to 86 degrees) and winter (as low as the 50's)temperatures.  We finally were able to get out of our lease when we reported watrer leakage and mold to our county's environmental department.  At one point, we had counted 34 leak points in our ceiling (we were on the top floor).  After getting dozens of violations, the landlords said, "We want you out."  Our response was, "We're more than anxious to go."

Well, we got through the stresses of those early days without losing our growth trajectory and now we have a decent work space for our staff and expanding intern program.  The only problem is we're full up again and it would be more efficient to have everyone back on a single floor.

In about an hour, we'll see what the future has to offer...


  1. Moving on up! I've been following this blog and the Association and it looks like you are all growing so much--especially in a time when organizations are downsizing.

    Well done!

  2. Thank you. I think we're growing because our programs are built in ways that engage and strengthen the community. I think you've given me another topic to write about.