A formidable panel of judges lent a deep bench of knowledge, experience and innovation.

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Eight outstanding leaders from across the affordable housing and community development landscape and beyond served as judges for the challenge’s virtual pitch competition. The panel heard 15 pitches, choosing six organizations to receive a $2.5 million award to carry out their breakthrough idea.

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Maria Evans

Fannie Mae, Sustainable Communities Partnership and Innovation, Vice President

Maria Evans leads the Sustainable Communities Partnership and Innovation Initiative to deepen Fannie Mae’s impact in affordable housing through external partnership opportunities in sectors adjacent to housing such as education, health care, employment and energy. She is responsible for the incubation, execution and evaluation of projects that support and advance the development of sustainable communities. Evans also oversees the company’s Community Investment and Engagement program to engage Fannie Mae’s 7,300 employees through skills-based volunteerism and employee giving programs. Evans previously served as chief of staff to the CEO at Fannie Mae.

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Laurel Hart

Columbia Residential, Vice President

Laurel Hart is vice president of Asset Management and Preservation at Columbia Residential, an Atlanta affordable housing development company. Hart is responsible for the leadership, strategy and implementation of plans to maintain the economic, physical and operational sustainability of the firm’s portfolio, which includes more than 7,500 affordable and mixed-income multifamily homes in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. Prior to joining Columbia, Hart directed the Housing Finance and Development Division at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, managing the state’s multifamily affordable housing. Before starting her  affordable housing career, Laurel was a practicing attorney in Chicago.

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Fred Karnas

Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, Senior Fellow

Fred Karnas is a senior fellow at the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, helping advance the intersection of health and housing and serving as a loaned executive to the city of Richmond, Virginia, supporting its human services integration work. Karnas also co-leads a national effort focused on re-thinking the nation’s mental health system. His previous roles include senior advisor to the Kresge Foundation, president and CEO of Phoenix-based St. Luke’s Health Initiatives (now the Vitalyst Health Foundation), and senior advisor in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Department, where he also served as executive director of the Interagency Council on the Homeless (now USICH). Karnas also served as director of the Arizona Department of Housing and the Arizona Housing Finance Authority.

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Patrice Kunesh

Peȟíŋ Haha Consulting, Founder and Director
Center for Indian Country Development, Creator and Former Director

Of Standing Rock Lakota descent, Patrice Kunesh is the founder and director of Peȟíŋ Haha Consulting, a social enterprise building more engaged and powerful Native communities. She is the major gifts officer at the Native American Rights Fund, where she began her legal career. Kunesh established and led the Center for Indian Country Development at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. She has served as deputy under secretary for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, deputy solicitor for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior and in-house counsel to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe.

Trisha Miller

Trisha Miller

Gates Ventures, Senior Director

Trisha Miller is a senior director of Advocacy and Government Relations at Gates Ventures, working on Breakthrough Energy and related clean energy programs in Bill Gates’ private office. Prior to joining Gates Ventures, Miller was the chief sustainability officer for Wishrock Housing Partners and Investment Group. As a presidential appointee at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, she advanced energy and housing policy under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. She led a federal initiative to triple the amount of renewable energy reaching low-income communities, building on her former role managing Green Communities at Enterprise Community Partners.  Previously, Miller ran the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights’ community development initiative.

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Marc Norman

Ideas and Action, Founder
University of Michigan, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Professor of Practice

Marc Norman is the founder of the consulting firm Ideas and Action and an associate professor of practice at the University of Michigan, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Working in the field of community development and finance for over 20 years, Norman has worked collaboratively to develop or finance over 2,000 units totaling more than $400 million in total development costs. A board member for numerous nonprofit and community organizations addressing affordable housing and design, he currently serves on the boards of MASS Design Group, CAMBA Housing Ventures and the Federal Reserve Board’s Community Advisory Council.

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Chrishelle Palay

Houston Organizing Movement for Equity Coalition, Director

Chrishelle Palay leads the Houston Organizing Movement for Equity (HOME) Coalition, a collective  created to ensure all Houstonians recovered from Hurricane Harvey equitably. Palay is the former Southeast co-director at Texas Housers. Palay also practiced architecture, specifically multifamily high-rise development. A Next City Vanguard alumna and a Ford Foundation Public Voices Fellow of the OpEd Project, she participates in the Community of Practices on Local Housing Strategies and other national cohorts. She is on the board of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County and Rhodes School for the Performing Arts.

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RuthAnne Visnauskas

New York State Homes and Community Renewal, Commissioner and CEO

RuthAnne Visnauskas is the commissioner and CEO of New York State Homes and Community Renewal, the umbrella entity that includes the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the New York State Housing Finance Agency, the State of New York Mortgage Agency and the New York State Affordable Housing Corporation. Visnauskas previously served as managing director of the Housing Advisory Board for the Robin Hood Foundation. She also held several key positions at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development during the Bloomberg administration, including the role of commissioner.


More About the Challenge

The challenge is elevating vitally needed scalable and effective housing affordability innovations.
Stay connected to follow the progress of our six housing innovators
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