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Jess Brandes
Job title: Housing Developer
Year graduated from Carolina Planning: 2009
Specialization at Carolina Planning: Housing and Community Development

Can you describe your work at CASA?

CASA is a non-profit real estate developer and property management company. In particular we specialize in creating and managing supportive housing for households at the lowest end of the income spectrum – people with disabilities. Very often these households have experienced homelessness. My main role as the Housing Developer is to buy or build more units – through both acquisition and rehab of existing units and through new construction. This involves finding properties and sites, putting deals together, securing financing, securing land use entitlements, overseeing the design process, overseeing construction or rehab, and delivering units on time and on budget to meet the expectations of our funders and partners. This work is highly collaborative, involving many other members of CASA’s staff as well as our municipal, state and federal partners, funders and donors, community groups, contractors, designers, and service providers.

What advice would you offer to those considering planning school?

Go talk to people employed in the fields you’re interested in. 9 times out of 10 we will be delighted to meet with you and talk about our work. Don’t go to grad school, especially if you have to pay for it, without determining if you need to have a masters degree or without determining what skills are really needed for the job you want.

What advice would you offer to those on the market for a career in planning?

Same as above – get out there and talk to planners, build your network. Attend community meetings, join a committee, etc. So much of real estate development specifically is local, so bone up on the issues and players in that local market. Finally, do not discount your soft skills – they have immense value. A good work ethic, sense of humor, ability to distill information, etc. are all critically important skills in almost any job.

How do you measure success in your work?

CASA’s goal for each tenant is that once they move into one of our units, they remain permanently and stably housed, and they never face homelessness again. My role in achieving that is to develop communities that look great, have affordable rents, and are well located so that our tenants love their homes and feel a sense of ownership. We have an applicant pool of hundreds of Triangle households in dire need of housing, so when we can move households out of that applicant pool and into a permanent apartment that they can afford, that is success.

You were recently named as one of the 40 under 40 leaders by the Triangle Business Journal. What is your favorite thing about working in the Triangle region?

The Triangle is a small place. It’s easy to build a network and get to know people. We’re also really fortunate that the Triangle is growing – while growth certainly brings great challenges, it also brings new ideas and new opportunities. These two factors – the smallness and the growth – create a lot of openness to trying new things, taking risks, being optimistic about change. And that’s a great environment for real estate development, affordable or otherwise.