Please help us welcome our new President of our Board of Directors and three new Board members in 2024!
Brika Eklund has been a member of the CHT Board of Directors for the past three years, and as of the start of January, she began a one-year term as the organization’s Board President. And while serving on CHT’s board marks her first experience as a board member, the majority of Brika’s professional career has been focused on affordable housing and community development. She’s also spent most of her life as a resident of Orange County, so her combination of experience and deep commitment to her community makes her a great fit to lead the organization’s board.
Brika is a Chapel Hill native who now lives in Hillsborough, and other than several years away in college, Winston-Salem, NC, and Boston, MA, she has spent her entire life in Orange County. It was during her time at Davidson, where her Bonner Scholarship allowed her to spend her four years focused on community service, that she developed an interest in working in the affordable housing space. She volunteered at the Urban Ministries Center in Charlotte, and as she learned about the systemic issues that contribute to homelessness in the United States, she realized that she wanted to contribute to changing those systems. Since earning her master’s degree at the University of North Carolina in City and Regional Planning, she has spent her career focused on that work.
It was during her time as Director of Real Estate at Self-Help several years ago that she learned about Community Home Trust and ultimately decided to join the board. Now, she works at First Citizens Bank as the Director of Loan Portfolio Management for the Bank’s Community Development Finance department. Because her job can find her working in communities across the country, she thinks it’s especially important to give back to her local community – and board service at CHT provides her the perfect opportunity to use her expertise to serve Orange County in this essential way. “CHT is a really strong, professional organization, and it has a lot of capacity and a lot of great people. So to help support an organization that is strong and growing feels like a really worthwhile contribution and use of time when I don’t have a lot of time as a parent of a young family. It really feels worth it and meaningful, like it’s going to make a difference, both for the organization and for the broader community,” explains Brika.
Brika has taken on the role of Board Chair in a year when CHT is on the cusp of a significant amount of growth, and her focus this year is on helping the organization build capacity and prepare for that growth. “The growth isn’t here yet, but we know it’s coming,” says Brika.
“So how do we use 2024 and 2025 to be really well prepared so that when the units arrive, whether through inclusionary zoning or our additional units that CHT creates through partnerships, we’re really well prepared to run the best affordable housing inventory in partnership that we can? We want the region to continue to have a lot of strong affordable housing options for people in perpetuity.”
She’s excited by all the creative opportunities CHT has to approach housing affordability challenges in innovative ways, and she cites the Tanyard Branch Trace private-public partnership as an example of one of those opportunities. “I’m really excited for CHT to build some new housing in the community and to partner with a great group [Taft Mills Group] and the Town of Chapel Hill to get it done. To add to the inventory in our own proactive way is really exciting,” she explains. And it’s important to her that projects like Tanyard Branch Trace are closely tied to the values of the Town that she really appreciates: “I’ve seen the Town change a lot, but also a lot of the values remain the same, which includes supporting people with different incomes and really following through on that.”
One of the things Brika says she appreciates most about serving on CHT’s board is the essential perspective of the board members who are CHT residents. Currently, of CHT’s 11 board members, four are current homeowners or tenants. Brika says that for an organization whose roots run so deep in the community, it’s essential that even as the board diversifies, those resident voices remain core to all their decisions.
“It’s just fundamentally invaluable to have residents as board members and community events to ground us in what we’re doing. Because at the end of the day, the purpose is to build homes where people can have a safe, stable place to live and have community,” says Brika.
She says it’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day tasks and to-do lists that come with helping run an organization and lose that perspective, especially in a season of organizational growth.
In this season of growth, she encourages community members to educate themselves about the affordable housing landscape and the growth they can expect in their community. In the next several years, our area is going to see all the development that voters and elected officials have approved, and much of that includes affordable housing. So she thinks it’s essential for Chapel Hill and Orange County residents to find good sources of information about all the new homes being built. Specifically, she suggests paying attention to information published by the municipalities themselves, such as newsletters from affordable housing departments. (You can find a list of recommended sources at the end of this post.) She also says that CHT’s newsletters and website are good sources of information about the organization’s role in that growth. “I’m excited for the community to see that unfold and to know that there’s a really strong organization behind the work.”
Ultimately, says Brika, as CHT prepares to double its inventory over the next five years, she’s excited to be leading CHT into a “data-gathering and planning year, a year of enriching and strengthening. A big part of that is preparing to have a stronger fundraising and organizational funding model in partnership with our private donors in the community and also our governmental partners. How we do that to make it really stable and self driven for a long time is going to be really key to help us prepare to accept that growth when the units are actually delivered.”