Today, we are interviewing Vaughn Irons, a 25-year capital market, community empowerment, and real estate development executive.
1. Please tell us something about yourself.
I am the Chief Executive of a community-economic development firm named APD Solutions that focuses on urban planning and real estate development. Previous to APD, I spent 12 years at Freddie Mac as National Director of Housing & Community Investment. In that role, I was in charge of many things, including affordable lending, minority outreach, bond programs, anti-predatory lending, workforce housing, and our post-Katrina recovery efforts. Otherwise, I've worked in banking, nonprofit, been chairman of a Development Authority, and worked in county government.
I was educated in public schools and a proud graduate of Syracuse University. I also have an MBA from the University of Maryland and a second Masters in Commercial Real Estate from Georgia State University. I volunteer nearly 1000 hours a year of my time with nonprofits, including being elected as VP of my County's NAACP Branch.
I'm a man who cares deeply about the community, and I very much enjoy bringing my skills, relationships, and talents to help distressed communities navigate into the exceptional future I believe they deserve to have.
2. How did you get into what you do right now? Please tell us more about your journey?
Completely by accident. I began working in banking, then government, then the nonprofit, and then into corporate. During the 2008 financial crisis, I decided to become an entrepreneur by using the skills I learned in each of those industry sectors and creating a real estate development and urban planning consulting firm.
3. Who are your role models?
I've had some great mentors. My former CEO from my nonprofit days, Suzanne Boas, was certainly one. I also look at individuals such as Chicago's Quinten Primo as a role model.
4. What inspires you?
I think minority and other underserved communities suffer from a lack of support and understanding. I am ignited by the idea that a neighborhood that hasn't reached its full potential can be revitalized and change the lives of the residents and stakeholders for the better.
5. Please tell us about your book.
Given all of my personal and professional experiences working in neighborhoods across the country, I thought I should memorialize perspectives that would be helpful to people that want to improve their community but don't know-how. So I wrote my book titled Vigilante Redevelopment.
The world has neighborhoods, communities, cities, and countries that are distressed, underserved, or simply not realizing their full potential. In some instances, that is because many of us that live or grew up in those places are simply waiting for someone else to make something happen. I want my readers to understand that we don't have to wait for others to make our lives better. The foundation of our quality of life is in our hands. If we adjust our mindset and implement specific activities, we have the power to make the future we want in the places we live in.
Vigilante Redevelopment: Taking the future of your community in your own hands instead of waiting helplessly for others.
6. What's your most memorable experience?
My most memorable experience was working on the Hurricane Katrina and Rita response in Louisiana and Mississippi. The level of personal and property devastation that I witnessed has left a mark on me for my entire life. Helping distressed communities like New Orleans inspired me to start my firm because I believe there are communities that have been devastated by economic, man-made, and natural disasters. These communities need the expertise to combine with the local desire to see change.
7. What's your greatest fear?
I fear not being able to accomplish a legacy of achievement that helps future generations understand how to build, preserve, and sustain their communities. I have so many experiences and acquired knowledge that I fear will be lost after I am no longer active.
8. Looking back, what's one thing you wish you understood better before you ever got started?
The power of uninformed social media and fake news. I believe journalism has taken a back seat to sensationalism, and the desire to be hyperbolic or provocative has superseded the need to be accurate or fair and balanced.
9. What are the strategies that helped you become successful in your journey?
Working hard and playing hard. I put the hours in to be ahead of anyone seeking to compare or compete. I read voraciously and look to cross-reference information that I find in disparate texts.
10. What keeps you going when things get tough?
A sense of purpose and duty. I feel deeply for individuals and communities, especially when they see their own potential. Too often, there are people and places that don't believe in their own possibilities. It's very hard when you see more in someplace or somebody than they see in themselves. So the memory of the successes I've been able to create that have uplifted persons and neighborhoods to a better place helps me balance any challenges that I have faced.
11. Any message for our readers.
I believe in taking a creative approach to everything. The design and aesthetic quality matters. Sometimes you have to put a little extra panache on something to make it stand out and be memorable. So in that vein, I always believe that “in order to get something you've never had, you might have to do something you've never done.
12. How can people connect with you?