By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
To thy own self be true.
– William Shakespeare
For Tiffanie McNair, what you see is what you get. The Commissioner of Toledo’s Department of Housing and Community Development is not a person who is one way at work but displays a “true” personality elsewhere. Sincerely committed to revitalizing economically challenged communities, McNair keeps it 100 to “make things happen” to improve the lives of people in our community.
McNair is a Toledo native, raised in the Englewood neighborhood, and a Jesup Wakeman Scott High School graduate. She earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a post-baccalaureate in paralegal studies from the University of Toledo. McNair is also currently completing her master’s degree in law at the University of Toledo’s Law School.
Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz describes her as a rockstar. “Tiffanie will be successful wherever her career takes her. I feel so blessed that she works for the City of Toledo. She is a true leader,” he beamed.
I had the pleasure of speaking with McNair about her career and what it means to be an authentic public administrator and leader in the City of Toledo.
Perryman: Mayor Kapszukiewicz has spoken highly of your leadership. What does your career path look like?
McNair: I started literally at the bottom as a compliance specialist with United North, hired by Kim Cutcher and Terry Glazer. So, I began my career in affordable housing development and management as a part-time worker making $10 an hour working 12 hours a week. So, I’ve been fortunate to gain experience working directly with the people and learning all aspects of affordable housing development, including developing and managing and community outreach.
Perryman: Please discuss your duties as Commissioner of Housing and Community Development.
McNair: In this position, one of the main things that I do is receive reviews and provide guidance to developers who want to build or rehab sites to add to the affordable housing stock here in Toledo. I oversee the housing division in the Department of Housing and Community Development. Right now, I have approximately 20 staff members.
A significant program that is still active is our partnership with Lucas County in the emergency rental assistance program. To date, we have received approximately $42 million, so I’ve managed that project for the city and the county. I also oversee the city’s lead grant program, meaning I supervise the lead grant manager here to ensure the program moves forward. I have the historic and environmental staff under my purview.
I also do a lot of reporting. I draft legislation, which our law department reviews for the programs that come out of the housing division. I contribute to our annual plan submitted to HUD and the annual report we have to provide to HUD. I draft notices of funding availability (NOFA) to inform the public that the city has funds for which they could submit a proposal for gap financing. I may go to community events and be the person you’re talking to about any program we have in this department. I almost feel like I do everything, and I’m not listing it all, but that’s keeping it simple.
Perryman: Let’s get back to the career trajectory. Where do you plan to go from here?
McNair: Well, for me, it’s just important to continue to serve the community. So, given the opportunity, I would like to move into a director’s role given the right time and circumstances. Right now, I am learning a lot. That’s where I see myself continuing to serve the community regarding their housing needs and ensuring fair, and just housing is available for everyone.
Perryman: How about the Mayor’s administration, urban planner, or city council member? Are any of those positions on your radar?
McNair: Well, I would never say never because those are areas of interest. Right now, I’m more focused on the immediate. But if I have the opportunity and it is an excellent fit, I would also be interested in those types of positions.
Perryman: Let’s talk about housing. Can you provide me with the number of supported affordable housing units created this year or last year?
McNair: Last year, our Notice of Funding Availability received 11 proposals, and that would’ve provided about 600 affordable housing units.
Perryman: You have recently launched a Rooftops Repair financial assistance program to help low to moderate-income households repair or replace their roof. How many people have you helped?
McNair: We received 552 submissions for the lottery. We are still working through the process, but we want to help 650 households with their roofing needs. That roofing program is still very early. We’ve not had anyone complete an application. What they’ve done is completed their lottery entry.
Perryman: How much money will you distribute for the Rooftops Repair program?
McNair: We have $2.9 million in ARPA investment, $300,000 from our community development block grant, and with our partnerships with Toledo Urban Federal Credit Union, Premier Bank and Huntington Bank, we’re looking to leverage their dollars along with this program. So, we’re looking at a total of approximately $7 million.
Perryman: How about the first-time buyers’ down payment assistance program?
McNair: We’ve helped 70 households with their down payment assistance in our last program year. For our Home Rehab and repairs program for owner-occupied, there were 218 households for the year ending June 30, 2022.
Perryman: Why is engagement by citizens critical?
McNair: Without the citizens, we don’t have anything. I’m a lifelong Toledoan, so I’ve always felt the citizens should hold the people in these elected or appointed seats accountable because that’s whom we work for. We are here to provide a service and make sure that citizens feel like they are valued. Without the citizen’s support, we wouldn’t be able to do the work we do.
Perryman: In your department’s policy projects, do the residents have input or are the programs dictated to them by the City?
McNair: I’ll speak for my department, it’s collaborative, and overall, the city is putting forth an effort to be collaborative.
Our department asks for different groups to be represented in some of our meetings. So, for example, we had everyone at the table during our 10-year housing strategy. We had tenants at the table. We had large landlords and community partners at the table to advise us of the needs and desires of the citizens. You can’t impose a type of housing or economic development the people didn’t ask for, and then wonder why it failed.
So yes, you definitely have to talk to the people and ask what they want. It’s a conversation that has to be ongoing between the public and we that provide these services.
Perryman: Finally, let’s talk about the experiences that have shaped your leadership. You spoke earlier about your community organizing and resident engagement background at United North. How did that experience shape your present perspective?
McNair: I’ve never forgotten that experience of being right there with the people and of the people. That is the crown jewel of anything that I do is being present and acknowledging and hearing the people. So, I don’t feel far removed from people’s struggles and constantly think of ways to address those struggles. If the work ever became about me and building my career or a professional resume, I’d lose a bit of my soul when doing this kind of work. So, I don’t want any attention on me. I just want to do the work.
Perryman: How have other interests shaped your professional life? What hobbies do you have?
McNair: I love to read, spend a lot of time with my family and friends, and travel a lot. I love music, and I love food.
Perryman: That’s very interesting.
McNair: I’m not a chain restaurant person. However, I am so much in love with food that if we were going to a new restaurant, I would’ve already Googled the restaurant and its menu. I know what I want when we get there. So, I get “hangry,” and I would say I’m a girl’s girl too.
Perryman: Do you cook?
McNair: Yes, and I am a good cook! I learned to cook by watching my grandmother, mother, and aunts. My mother had seven sisters, which definitely influenced my relatability to other women because I grew up in a very women-dominant, women-centered environment.
Perryman: And I assume they were powerful women, too! What type of foods are you good at cooking?
McNair: I am not being braggadocious. I can cook anything. The only thing I’ve never tried to cook, and I don’t have any interest in cooking, is chitterlings. But I can make it all, all types of ethnic foods, all kinds of contemporary dishes, soul food, just straight American food, Vegan. So, I can do it all. And not only do I cook, but I can bake as well.
Perryman: Great, what kind of cakes?
McNair: I can make pound cake from scratch with Swan’s cake flour, German chocolate cake, coconut cake, pineapple cake, whatever kind of cake I can make it.
Perryman: What are your music preferences?
McNair: I will say this, if we’re traveling and it is family, my mother and my aunts want to ride with me because I love old school. I am so old school, but I love all kinds of music. I love real music. I like to hear instruments played live in the studio, not just people hitting buttons that make it sound like a trumpet or a snare drum. And people that didn’t need any filter when it came to singing, they could sing, they had tone, they had range, that’s what I like, real music.
Perryman: So, are you a musician or a singer?
McNair: I am not. My father played tuba in high school, his brother played trumpet, another brother played trombone, and my uncle sang with the Cleveland Orchestra. I played piano when I was a child, but those men, my father and his brothers, taught me how to listen to music. So, from a small child, I’ve always listened to music with a musician’s ear. Even my uncle taught me to isolate different instruments in a song and tap only when I hear the specific instrument.
Perryman: Finally, then, do you think the culture – the cooking or the music, has influenced you as a professional and a leader?
McNair: Yes! Because I like it real, and I want it to have flavor!
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org