Alumna Vanessa Luna brings home her USC Price education
By Cristy Lytal
As housing director of Clifford Beers Housing, Vanessa Luna is celebrating a career milestone: the grand opening of an apartment development that’s just down the street from her alma mater, USC. Called King 1101 Apartments, the sustainably designed building features 25 units of supportive housing for military veterans and low-income families that were formerly homeless, and includes access to on-site social services, a 24/7 property manager, a community room and kitchen, retail space for local social enterprises and community gardens.
“It’s very exciting,” said Luna. “After so long, to see people move into the building and finally get it occupied does feel great.”
A native of Southern California, Luna first developed an interest in planning, community development and affordable housing as an undergraduate majoring in communication at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. While she focused her course work on the intersections between race, gender and media, she spent many extracurricular hours working at the USC Center for Economic Development at the USC Price School of Public Policy. Her supervisor Dion Jackson encouraged her to explore related careers by pursuing a fellowship offered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. By securing the competitive fellowship, Luna had the opportunity to try a series of internships in the affordable housing field—at the City of Gardena, at a policy-oriented nonprofit, and at a community and economic development nonprofit.
Inspired by these experiences, Luna decided to pursue a master of planning degree at USC Price, which she earned in 2006.
“Vanessa was a delightful student, who was actively questioning issues in class and discussing them further outside,” said USC Price Professor David C. Sloane. “Her projects since graduating are indicative of her commitment to her studies while she was here, and her willingness to grow as a professional. She is a wonderful example of our alums.”
After graduation, Luna worked for seven years as a project manager for Skid Row Housing Trust, which provides permanent supportive housing for people who have experienced homelessness, poverty, disabilities, mental or physical illness, or addiction.
She then assumed her current position at Clifford Beers Housing, which has a similar mission of creating thoughtfully designed, affordable and integrated communities for people who have experienced mental illness and homelessness. As housing director, Luna has secured more than $132 million in funding and overseen the development of 226 affordable apartments. Her duties run the gamut from navigating tax credits, to securing rental subsidies, to leveraging local, state and county financing programs for building permanent supportive housing.
Clifford Beers’ project manager Audrey Peterson, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from USC Price, considers Luna not only a talented supervisor, but also a true team player.
“She values everyone’s opinion,” said Peterson. “She always asks for suggestions either from me or our other staff members. ‘What do you guys think about this? How can this be better?’ And so that’s always an exciting thing to have when you’re a small office like ours.”
Looking ahead, Luna continues to be motivated by a strong desire to be an agent of tangible change in people’s lives.
“You’re making an actual impact in terms of getting a set number of people off the street into homes,” said Luna. “At the end, you have something concrete to point to.”