Debbie Sousa, executive director of the Massachusetts Mortgage Bankers Association, learned political and community involvement at an early age from her parents: Her dad was a Haverhill city council, and her mom ran the local hospital. By the time she was 5, Sousa was already a seasoned campaigner, attending rallies and holding signs for various causes. She says her mom, in particular, was an inspiration.
“At a time when very few moms worked full time, she not only worked, but went to college, then went back and got her master’s degree,” Sousa said. “She was such a great role model growing up. She showed me it’s never too late to further your education and your professional goals.”
One of three children, Sousa attended Northern Essex Community College, married and spent a year in Kansas City. When her husband was diagnosed with cancer, the couple moved back to Massachusetts, and Sousa got a job as a loan processor for Bank of Boston in Haverhill.
Her husband died in 1990, and Sousa went to work for Credit Data of New England. Several other positions at various banks and institutions followed, always in mortgage lending.
“I’ve been in the mortgage world my whole career in one capacity or another,” she said. “I’ve always been very lucky professionally, enjoying what I did.”
She joined the Massachusetts Mortgage Bankers Association, a trade group representing about 250 banks, credit unions and mortgage lenders, as director of education in 2005. One of her first tasks was to develop license recommendations for loan originators in Massachusetts.
“Ultimately, there was very little difference between my binder and the legislation that passed in 2007,” she said.
Sousa became executive director of the MMBA in November 2011 – the same position her current husband Steve Sousa held from 1990-94. In addition to membership education, Sousa and the MMBA also spend considerable time on advocacy and monitoring legislation affecting the mortgage industry.
“We are the voice of the mortgage industry,” Sousa said. “I go to Washington once a year to meet with our federal legislators, regularly go to the State House. This session alone I was tracking 83 bills, all with some kind of impact on the mortgage world. I love everything about my job. I love the fact that I’m making a difference. Even if it’s things behind the scenes, we’re making a difference every day.”
Among the achievements of which she is most proud is the MMBA Foundation, which started in 2004, and has given away more than $200,000 to 49 nonprofits primarily involved in consumer credit and affordable housing issues. The MMBA also has a scholarship program, and is readying a new “Rising Star” initiative designed to encourage young professionals to enter the mortgage field.
Last year the MMBA was invited to participate in a national summit looking at creating new channels of opportunity in diverse homebuyer markets. One of the outcomes of that summit is a joint effort by the MMBA and the Massachusetts Association of Realtors to develop a continuing education class for both mortgage loan originators and real estate agents on affordable housing initiatives in Massachusetts.
Sousa and her husband have three children and eight grandchildren. They live in Field’s Corner in Dorchester, where she is past president and current secretary of the Field’s Corner Civic Association. She is also secretary of Ditson Street Senior Housing for low-income elders.