After 23 years in nonprofit and community development, Susan Gittelman says she still enjoys seeing the fruits of her labor – not only in the buildings she helps create, but also in people’s lives.
“I think that it’s the impact on people and creating opportunity for people that didn’t exist before the venture – that’s what really gets me up every day,” she said.
Gittelman, who has a master’s degree in city and regional planning from Rutgers University, started her career as a development finance specialist for the city of Boston. She went on to work for several local urban development organizations: As economic development director for Neighborhood Development Corp. of Jamaica Plain; partner and project manager for Boston Community Ventures Inc.; and director of real estate for Urban Edge.
In 2003, she became executive director of B’nai B’rith Housing New England, a Jewish-sponsored, nonprofit development organization whose goal is to create high-quality, affordable and mixed-income housing for seniors, young families and others in need.
Over the past nine years, Gittelman has worked on scores of projects – a combination of workforce, senior and affordable housing projects throughout Greater Boston.
“We’re small and we have projects at various stages of production, but we’re very productive,” she said.
She is currently overseeing construction of 64 units of senior housing in Sudbury.
“It’s a terrific project and a terrific town,” she said.
Finding Common Ground
Like the project in Sudbury, many of B’nai B’rith’s developments have been in upper-income communities, where affordable housing is scarce.
In Chestnut Hill, for example, B’nai B’rith Housing partnered with the city of Newton in 2008 to build a 57-unit, mixed-income homeownership community on Commonwealth Avenue.
Gittelman said she considers the project one of her biggest career accomplishments, along with an urban development project in Jamaica Plain in the 1990s, completed while she was with Boston Community Ventures.
The Jamaica Plain project involved creating a public-private partnership to acquire and clean up a toxic site. The effort resulted in the first community health facility for Children’s Hospital and the first inner-city supermarket in Boston in 20 years.
In both the Newton and Jamaica Plain projects, the challenge, she said, was “stepping into those relationships, where folks started out with these different interests, and trying to find that common ground where people felt there was mutual benefit to working together.”
“You start in one place and end up in a place where you’ve really created an opportunity for people to thrive, whether in an urban or suburban setting,” she said.
Being a female in the predominantly male commercial real estate industry has been “liberating in some ways,” Gittelman said.
“It was often the case, with very rare exception, that I was the only woman in the room,” she recalled. “There was some advantage in that people didn’t know what to make of that.
“The truth is,” she added with a laugh,” the real advantage is that because I’m the developer, I’m the boss.”
Gittelman received her bachelor’s degree from Hamilton College in New York. She is a member of the community board of the Greater Boston chapter of the American Jewish Committee; the Greater Boston Chapter of New England Women In Real Estate (NEWIRE); and the Urban Land Institute.