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Updated: August 9, 2021 Women to Watch

Women to Watch: At Avesta, Rebecca Hatfield is advocating for affordable housing

Rebecca Hatfield at a construction site File photo / Tim Greenway Rebecca Hatfield was named the new president and CEO of Avesta Housing.

Rebecca Hatfield joined Avesta in 2015 as an assets and acquisitions officer. She was promoted to director of real estate development in 2017 and in 2019 took on her current role as senior vice president of real estate. In this position, she oversees Avesta’s real estate development and property management divisions with more than 100 employees.

Mainebiz: Portland was recently cited by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top 10 cities to live in, with a caveat about the availability of affordable housing. How important is affordable housing to keeping a city accessible and vibrant?

Rebecca Hatfield: As demand and popularity increases, accessibility is at risk of diminishing. Portland is home to thousands of jobs and has easy access to all the activities of daily living. Affordable housing must be protected. People need to remember that affordable housing serves critical members of the community — a teacher, a grocery store worker, a police officer. If a daycare teacher can’t afford to live in the city, then you might not have a daycare to serve the community’s residents.

MB: How did the pandemic and the real estate boom put further pressure on affordable housing in Maine?

RH: The demand for affordable housing was top of mind before the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, we could only help one in 10 people searching for affordable housing due to the demand. Then, with the pandemic, the poorest and most vulnerable got left behind. Rural and suburban towns in the past may not have had the same urgency as urban areas. And now it’s at crisis mode for all towns. We have to continue to build affordable housing because the need isn’t going away, the need has intensified.

MB: What’s the biggest threat to affordable housing in Maine?

RH: The labor shortage in construction. We need boots on the ground to build housing. The shortage also affects the cost-to-build, impacting the feasibility of development. If you don’t have the people, the work can’t get done.

MB: Is there a permanent shift for certain Maine towns away from affordability or is this a bubble that will burst and find a new balance?

RH: There has been a shift in affordability. Prior to the housing boom, the crunch was more obvious in southern Maine and coastal Maine. Now, rural towns are having the same affordability issues. We need to continue to build in towns like Portland, Scarborough and Westbrook, but you also need to build in other smaller towns that may not have been in focus before.

MB: Your career includes a stretch as a software and network management engineer. How and why did you transition to your current field?

RH: My career has been a journey. I have a passion for a good challenge — solving problems that will push me to grow. My heart will always be driven by a passion for people. Even when I had technical jobs, I wanted to understand the client and help them by building a better tool or solution.

I got my MBA, which opened a lot of doors. After getting my MBA, I moved into banking and finance at Citigroup, which appealed to my analytical nature. At Citigroup, I was able to touch a lot of different companies and types of clients. After 10 years, I had an itch to try something new. I had technical skills in finance and real estate. I had this need and want to help people and to make an impact.

I now have the best of both worlds — the people side and the technical side. I’m analytical in nature, but what drives me is the people and helping them.

MB: Any thoughts on the existence of a Women to Watch event in the year 2021? Does it seem important to highlight women or is the notion of a distinct category outdated?

RH: I think it’s fantastic. The gender gap still exists. In a world where diversity and equity is top of mind, this may have an even greater impact and inspire the next generation of women coming along.

MB: What women in your career or life have influenced you the most?

RH: Various mentors guided me through my career. My mom and sister were the most influential. They are my pillars of support. My mom, a mathematician, worked as a black woman in a male-dominated field. Her strength and perseverance taught me well. My sister has compassion and heart. Together, the two of them pushed me to be who I am today.

MB: What advice do you have for young women starting their careers now?

RH: Embrace who you are. Dream big. Every journey has wins and losses, but use every experience as an opportunity to grow. Live in the moment.

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