Growing up on the south side of Chicago in one of the city’s only culturally diverse neighborhoods taught Eleanor White a valuable lesson: the problem of poverty and the need for publicly-assisted housing go hand-in-hand. As president and CEO of Housing Partners Inc., an affordable housing firm, she is dedicated to ensuring that all individuals have access to decent housing.
In 1967, White graduated from Harvard/Radcliffe Colleges. She later earned a master’s in public administration from Northeastern University and was a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
After graduation, she and her husband Barry moved to Washington, D.C., where she began working for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). When the couple moved back to Boston in 1969, she stayed with HUD until 1983 when she became chief of operations at the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency (now MassHousing). She remained at this agency until 1995, serving as deputy director/co-chief executive, until she co-founded Housing Partners Inc.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she took a lead role in the early planning and rejuvenation of 2,000 units of HUD multifamily foreclosures in Roxbury and Dorchester, known as the Granite Properties.
“These units were in terrible physical condition, and many of the residents had lost hope,” she said. “The project reclaimed a huge number of buildings and brought social services, security and respect for the residents into the neighborhood.”
Paying It Forward
White remembers those who helped her progress in her career, and mentors younger people today who otherwise would not have the attention needed to grow and prosper.
“I had seen too often people who were not given a chance,” she said. “When I had a few experiences of taking a failing employee situation and turning it into success, it brought home the importance of helping others.”
White attributes her lengthy and successful career to her innate sense of curiosity and willingness to learn, plus a wonderfully supportive family: her husband of 47 years, Ambassador Barry White, three grown sons and now two granddaughters.
“I’m also something of a perfectionist, which plays well in a bureaucracy,” she said, “and don’t take myself too seriously.”
Nominator Marvin Siflinger, Housing Partners Inc. chairman, noted that White “is one of the hardest-working and most intelligent practitioners I have met in this field.” He goes on to praise her strong dedication to the public interest and her skillful collaborative efforts across a broad spectrum. “She has the ability to work with corporate and real estate leaders, government officials, nonprofit leaders and technical experts and command respect from them all,” he said. “She also has the ability to work with entry-level staff, low-income residents of assisted housing, in-the-trenches staff of public agencies and general citizens and treat them with an uncommon level of respect and sensitivity.”
Recently, White returned from a four-year stay in Oslo, where her husband served as U.S. Ambassador to Norway. Make no mistake – she didn’t consider this trip an extended vacation, but continued to run Housing Partners from across the ocean. Her commitment to finding affordable housing for all knows no boundaries.