News Industry/Other

Celebrating Women’s History Month: An Interview with Mercedes Stevenson

Written By: NTCIC

During Women’s History Month, we honor influential women from the past and present and celebrate their remarkable achievements. We are proud to spotlight an inspiring leader within our organization who is making a significant impact on historic preservation, community development, and sustainability.Mercedes Stevenson and her daughter

Meet Mercedes Stevenson, NTCIC’s Director of Asset Management. As the Director of Asset Management, Mercedes leads our team in overseeing more than 100 investments currently under management. Mercedes joined NTCIC with decades of experience in commercial real estate, asset management, community development, and risk management. She received her Bachelor’s in Urban and Regional Planning from California State Polytechnic University and an MBA from the University of Virginia.

Get to know Mercedes and her journey through work, life, and passions.

What was your career path like leading up to NTCIC?

I was an asset manager for a bridge lender, and prior to that, I worked for a servicing company. For most of my career, I’ve been in the tax credit space, specifically asset management and community capital. However, before anything finance, I was actually a city planner. I was the city planner for Long Beach, Carson, and Fontaine.

My path was a little back and forth because I graduated during a real estate crash. When I graduated with my MBA in 2008, I thought I was going to enter real estate development, but there weren’t many opportunities at the time. I ended up starting a risk management rotation program at Citi, which was my introduction to finance. I eventually transitioned into community capital. With a few exceptions, the majority of my experience has always been related to tax credit investments. I was familiar with the Historic Tax Credit program but was focused on and experienced in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and New Markets Tax Credits in community capital.

What is your biggest career achievement to date?

Every achievement so far has been the biggest. I’m proud of my willingness to leap and not letting fear of the unknown stop me from seizing opportunities that may not have necessarily made sense to others. I follow my gut a lot, leading me down a unique path of interesting experiences and eventually to a position I think is well suited.

What is something that makes NTCIC a unique place to work?

NTCIC is my dream job, to be honest. It’s the combination of getting my hands on these beautifully created spaces, utilizing my finance and tax credit experience, and taking pride in my work. The variety of the projects that we support makes every day interesting. I’ve been with NTCIC for a year now, and there’s been a school, theatres, and housing. I have never had this level of variety in my portfolio before. And each project has unique characteristics.

I also really like the culture. NTCIC has a culture of being yourself, which I absolutely love. Another thing that made me gravitate towards NTCIC was seeing how many women were in leadership positions.

Some of the leadership team of NTCIC at a recent group event
Some of the leadership team of NTCIC at a recent group outting.

How has your journey been navigating a male-dominated industry, especially as a woman of color?

Coming into this industry, one of the biggest shocks was the things people were comfortable saying in front of me. What I learned that has helped me navigate the industry is understanding what my value-add is, what I’m bringing to the table personally and professionally, and what I’m confident in. I don’t let where I work identify that for me.

I can’t not be identified as a black woman, right? I can’t change who I am, so I don’t change who I am. I find that it’s easier for me to find a place that fits rather than trying to fit into a place, and I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to do that throughout my career.

It’s not easy, and I know that’s not always the case for people. I’m used to being in spaces where I’m one of the only (if not the only) woman, or the only black person, or black woman, and those situations are not always comfortable. So that’s why I always have to go into it knowing what I bring to the table.

I’ve also had some great mentors help me in that regard. One of my first managers was incredible with this. They sat me down and asked, “So, what is your brand going to be? You have to have a brand. Something that sets you apart. Something that will help you navigate. Otherwise, you can get lost on the path and find yourself in the same spot down the road.” That helped add a level of confidence when starting my career and starting new positions. I don’t let others deter me from showing up and doing my job.

What advice do you have for women looking to enter or further their career in the industry?

I’d recommend the value of establishing and nurturing mentors and a network of people who can share your experiences but from different perspectives. I’d also recommend finding mentors at different stages of your career, especially if you want to progress and grow. Keep your network broad because there are many opportunities in the real estate space you may not even know exist. I didn’t know that a position like what I have now existed, and if I had honed in so strictly on what I was doing years ago, I wouldn’t be here right now.

While it’s helpful to have an idea of where you want to go in your career, I’ve found it more important to focus on the things that I’m passionate about rather than trying to have a set 10- or 15-year plan. Be open to focusing on your passion and following the work, not the position.

Also, be authentically who you are, know what you can bring to the table, and know your stuff. This goes hand in hand with following your passion. Don’t let a job dictate what and who you’re going to be. Follow your own path.

What can our industry do (or do better) to carve out space, uplift, or help women and people of color grow professionally?

Mercedes Stevenson on a hike

Representation really does matter. I think back to going to the open houses with my grandmother. Understanding that she started as a hairdresser and eventually got into real estate was so inspiring for me. I always see the possibilities, and change isn’t so scary because my grandmother did it.

Fast forward to now. Leadership is less intimidating when I see people like Kandi, Suzanne, Karin, and Heather. It just feels different when you see people like you in a space. If the industry wants to see more of us, then show more of us!

I think outreach and exposing people early on to these opportunities are important, too. Programs like the Open Access fellowship are really helpful. More organizations in our industry should create or participate in programs like this.

How do you prioritize a work/life balance? What are some of your non-work passions?

I’m not going to lie; I did not get good at work/life balance until I had my daughter. She’s growing so fast; one day, she was one, and suddenly three. Now, she’s seven and called herself a teenager the other day! But it clicked that if I didn’t make the time, I was going to blink, and she’d be leaving. So, I make time for things I enjoy and to spend with my daughter. She calls us the “glitter girls,” so we do a lot of “glitter girl” activities together, like painting and crafts.

I also love art museums and galleries. I also read a lot! I’m already on my 10th book this year. I think I read like people watch TV shows. If I’m in the mood for a thriller, I’ll reach for that. I might have two or three books in rotation at any time.