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Jill Fleming, affordable housing champion, retires

When Jill Fleming was pregnant with her third child, she had what she calls a revelation: she needed to become a CPA (certified public accountant). Despite the famously difficult exam and the fact that she had to coordinate her studying with her schedule, her husband’s schedule, and childcare, she passed the exam on the first try. She then needed to complete several hundred hours of audit experience, and thus began a storied career in affordable housing and real estate.

“I started doing affordable housing work from the CPA side of things because it met a short-term goal to get audit hours, and then it became a long-term goal,” Jill said. “That was back in December of 1986, which was a really important year for affordable housing. It was the year that the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC ) was created.”

Jill would later go on to become an expert in LIHTC financing, serving as a valuable resource that dozens of her colleagues looked to understand the nuances of the program. Before joining Community Roots Housing in 2006, Jill worked at Loveridge Hunt & Co., formerly Blume Loveridge, for 19 years. For eight of those years, Jill was a partner at the firm. As a CPA, she worked with affordable housing developers, public housing authorities, and tribal housing authorities throughout the western United States as well as Michigan and Missouri.

When Jill started at what was then Capitol Hill Housing, it had around 75 employees and had not yet embarked upon large developments like 12th Avenue Arts or the Liberty Bank Building. In fact, Jill recalls the grand opening of the 12th Avenue Arts building as one of her favorite memories with Community Roots.

“12th Avenue Arts was just such a significant step,” Jill said. “We went through four mayors to get that developed… It was the largest and by far the most complicated transaction we had done. It really felt like we graduated from like, smaller to bigger in terms of being a real estate developer. It paved the way for things like the Liberty Bank Building. When I started, we had several buildings that were four or five, six units, and now we’re developing buildings that have 110, 115 units.”

When asked what her greatest professional strengths have been, Jill said “to connect a lot of disparate thoughts or areas, to think in a cross-departmentally, cross-disciplinary way and to see the big picture… There is some tendency in accounting to really get into the weeds, and sometimes you shouldn’t. So it’s handy to be an accountant who can pull herself out of the weeds.”

Beyond serving as an integral part of the organization, Jill has served as a mentor for many of her colleagues.

“Jill Fleming is hands down the best supervisor I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” said Greg Gibson, interim CFO at Community Roots Housing. “Aside from her brilliance at all things finance and accounting, her leadership through empathy and compassion is second to none. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside Jill for the last four years and can’t thank her enough for all she has done to help me grow both personally and professionally.”

Robyn Dhatt has been part of the administration department Jill oversees for over two years; she and Jill are desk neighbors in the office. According to Robyn, you can learn a lot just from sitting next to Jill.

“It’s always refreshing to see a woman in a high-powered position,” Robyn said. “She’s just a really great example of how to be poised, sharp, a true professional, a very strong woman. She’s an encyclopedia of knowledge. She always has an answer, she’s always on point.”

In 2016, Jill served as acting CEO of Community Roots, during which time she led the organization’s annual fundraiser Omnivorous and signed the Purchase and Sale Agreement for the Station House site. She has served on the boards of the Affordable Housing Management Association of Washington, Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, Mt. Baker Housing Association, and the Washington State Council on Affordable and Rural Housing. She has also chaired the Housing Partnership Network CFO Community of Practice and served on the StrengthMatters CFO Advisory Panel. She is currently the treasurer of the Housing Development Consortium.

“Jill Fleming has been the backbone of Community Roots Housing for fourteen years,” CEO Christopher Persons said. “Her expertise in affordable housing finance and operations is unparalleled. Her leadership in our industry and commitment to social justice guarantee her permanent placement in the affordable housing hall of fame. For me, she’s been my closest confidant and friend for all these years, charting the vision and direction of this venerable organization, fighting for equity, and, of course, building affordable housing. Thank you, Jill, for your service and your friendship.”

As for Jill, she and her husband bought a 25-foot Airstream trailer, and they’ll be putting it to good use, traveling around the country in her retirement. She plans on spending time with her six grandkids and her cat Theo, in addition to pursuing various creative outlets and academic interests – from geography classes to watercolor classes to learning to make a quilt.

When asked to rewind a bit from 2020 and being on the precipice of retirement, Jill reflected on a way to articulate how she knew she had found her home in the affordable housing industry.

Some years ago, Jill Fleming was on the King County Library Foundation board, interviewing candidates for scholarships. The board asked a candidate something to the effect of “why should we give you a scholarship?” The candidate replied that when she started working at the library, she had found her people.

“I feel like when I came to housing, I found my people,” Jill said. “I’ve gotten to work with a lot of really interesting, creative people. I really have enjoyed working with the whole bunch.”

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