The Numbers Guy
“Cost, cost, cost is always a burden with us. We have to look at every type of financing opportunities, which are tax credits, filling property dollars with historic tax credits, new market tax credits. We have to be financial wizards when it comes to trying to finance some of these deals.” - Eugene E. Jones, Jr.
I was born on September 29 1955 on Selfridge Air Force Base near Mount Clemens, Michigan – just outside of Detroit. I am the second of six children, with an older sister among the four girls and two boys in my family. Unlike many other families, the six of us were really close and did everything together. Even our birthday parties were family-centered because we were poor and couldn’t afford to invite other people. I remember surviving on Carnation powdered milk, cabbage, cornbread, beans, spaghetti, and bologna. But life was good, we had a lot of fun and never realized we were poor.
I had a happy life, access to a swimming pool on base and did not resonate with the unrest in Detroit. Living on the base we weren’t exposed to the turmoil and rioting going on in the city and I didn’t understand why people were rioting. I enjoyed living in Detroit. The only regret I have about my time there (and elsewhere for that matter) is I can’t remember who I grew up with because we moved around so much. If you grew up in a military family, you’ll understand! Showing up in mid-year as the new kid and trying to make new friends while figuring out who you want to be friends with and who the bully is who will challenge you. We weren’t back in Detroit very long before dad was transferred to Yokota Air Force Base in Japan.
I attended school in Tokyo and was exposed to a different culture as well as meeting a lot of embassy kids and experiencing old Japan. We had a cultural mix of students: Iranians, Chinese, Japanese and people from all races and walks of life. It was while we were in Japan that I began exploring my spirituality and started attending and getting involved in a Presbyterian church. I underwent a spiritual transition from having no knowledge about God to beginning to embrace faith as a practical part of my life.
Even though I was living in Japan, which is primarily Buddhist, I never explored Buddhism but adopted a more Christian-centered faith. I continued going to church after we moved back to the United States and incorporated spirituality as part of my lifestyle. The church was also a gathering place on Sundays, which helped improve my social life.
In 1971, we returned to the states from Japan and I continued going to high school, attending Cody High on Detroit’s west side. In 11th grade, I had an epiphany of sorts. I decided not to be lazy anymore. I was instinctively a planner and knew I had the aptitude to succeed. I suddenly realized I needed good grades to get into college and began planning my life accordingly. From then on, I started applying myself scholastically and turned my performance around. From then on, I got A’s and B’s, with a focused goal of graduating so I could follow in my father’s footsteps and join the Air Force.
The Air Force provided my family and later me, an opportunity to live in multiple countries, American states, and cities. These experiences helped me become remarkably good at learning from life and provided critical lessons to help me maximize my potential. Another gift the Air Force training and my overseas and US assignments offered is that I became an expert in skills and acquired qualities that have served me well in leading nine U.S. housing authorities and one in Toronto, Canada.
During my time in the Air Force I learned the importance of humor, mentorship, communication skills, problem-solving cognitive processes. I learned the ability to harmonize actions at the three levels of war, sociability and a preference for relationship building, cross-cultural and language capabilities and an understanding of organizations. A leader must think critically, strategically, and creatively to meet both present and future challenges. In addition, visionary leadership incorporates creative interventions to processes, technological developments, and keeping up with emerging challenges. Strategic thinking is an ongoing activity where leaders constantly scan the current environments seeking a glimpse of possible futures. A dose of creative thinking supported by critical thinking skills helps the leader in this endeavor.
Air Force leaders must have skills to work with their counterparts in other services, government agencies, non-governmental organizations and other countries. Since senior leaders often are charged with mission success that requires working with people over whom they have no direct authority, the ability to resolve issues through persuasion and influence is key to their negotiation skills set. Given the future’s uncertainty, fast pace, huge amounts of often-conflicting data, and rapidly shifting dynamics, future leaders must have coping skills to meet the wide range of challenges facing them. They must be willing to access a variety of resources to help them and their subordinates cope with the emotional and psychological rigors of the VUCA environment.
Future leaders must be able to assess conflicting resource requests and allocate limited resources to most effectively support the enterprise’s overall strategy. This characteristic—always important—is even more so in an increasingly resource-constrained environment. Future leaders are self-aware and possess a high level of metacognition. They can step back and view problems and proposed solutions from a detached perspective. Visionary leadership is transformative and based on the power of inspiration. It is often characterized by a commitment to core values, clear visions, and respect for empowering relationships and facilitated by courageous and innovative action.
Finding My Calling
I have spent my entire career working for public housing agencies in cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Toronto, New Orleans, and Detroit. I have learned that there are solutions to the housing crisis in America. But we can’t even begin to fix these problems until we first free ourselves from the lingo that has become all too commonplace. This includes phrases such as affordable housing, public housing, projects, etc. In my 35 years working in the public housing sector, I’ve been nicknamed Mr. Fix-It because that is what I do. I am brought in when things are already sliding downhill.
It’s my job to lend my experience and skills to troubled housing agencies. Most of the time, these agencies face financial challenges and a host of other problems that have impacted their ability to effectively and economically provide what people need: safe housing. Americans do not just need a roof over their head. They need safe homes where they can settle down and settle in. Homes where they can grow roots. Places that they are proud to call home. Not just a box in a sky-rise, but a home that is part of a broader community. I have a vision to address the nation’s housing challenges much as I have done in each and every city where I’ve served over the last three-plus decades. My vision is not about changing a specific housing authority, but rather about bringing the spirit and the framework for creating community social change that is meaningful and which endures.
WHAT PEOPLE SAY
"All three communities, population's up, crime is down. Graduation rates are up and jobs are up. And that is what the true measure of Gene's leadership."
— Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Mayor
“We've got plenty of opportunity and now were going to… start expanding those opportunities to build upon something that people have been looking for.” – Eugene E. Jones, Jr., Dec 28, 2016, Network 27 Chicago Housing Authority 2017, by Walter Burnett, Jr.