By Kevin Oklobzija. (June,1 2022). Rochester Business Journal. Original Article
Sense of community ‘something to build on’
When Peggy Hill was in high school and contemplating her future, she thought nursing would be perfect for her.
The idea of helping others was very appealing.
So, while her preferred path of study changed from the medical field to accounting when she enrolled at St. John Fisher College, she still ended up dedicating her efforts to the betterment of others.
After a 13-year stint in public accounting and then the banking industry, Hill transitioned to Rochester Management, Inc., a nonprofit whose mission since 1941 has been to make a difference in affordable housing.
A quarter century later, she says she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Hill is president and CEO of the organization, whose 135 employees oversee development and management of 20 residential communities. The portfolio includes stalwarts Norton Village and Seneca Towers in the city of Rochester as well as new-builds Zion Hill Apartments near the city’s Bull’s Head neighborhood and Meadow Reserve in Irondequoit.
“Our team members understand why we’re here, and every day we get this opportunity to impact individuals’ lives today, tomorrow, for their life,” she said. “It’s a gift to us, really.”
The work is really an extension of what she said her parents taught her growing up, that everyone had a responsibility to help others.
And since her childhood also included a taste of property management, it’s only fitting she’s still in the field. Her father owned a three-unit apartment building in the Wayne County town of Wolcott, and while in middle school it was her job to mow and also to paint the units when they were vacated.
“I think it’s ironic that here I am, all these years later,” Hill said.
Working in the world of affordable housing was never her intention, however. Upon graduation from St. John Fisher, she immediately joined Price Waterhouse, became a certified public accountant, and then landed a job at Rochester Community Savings Bank.
“I was doing anything from real estate joint-venture analysis to consolidating operating capital plans, and even some odds things: Accounting for interest rate futures, serving as interim controller for their securities broker subsidiary,” she said.
She was content, but as the banking industry began to consolidate, and Rochester Community Savings Bank was sold, she realized it might be wise to test the waters.
“I came across this blind ad for Rochester Management,” Hill said. “I didn’t know what it was so I did the research and pulled out this footprints book.”
She learned how the organization was formed, that bankers Elmer Milliman and Charles Marshall of the former Central Trust Co. Bank spearheaded efforts to create affordable housing for soldiers returning from World War II.
“In the space of a week, they got all the city approvals, federal approval and got seven local banks to pitch in and fund the project,” Hill said.
That funding built Fernwood Park, Ramona Park and Norton Village, a total of 517 units spread across three communities. With the original mission unchanged, Hill realized she would fit into the company perfectly so she applied for the controller’s job.
“I was really intrigued reading the history and it seemed to be a pretty agile company for a nonprofit,” Hill said. “It just seemed to be very meaningful work, helping people that needed help.
“In banking I was in corporate accounting, so I was a little far removed from the end user. This is a little more refreshing. Not only are we working with people, but we’re also doing the physical bricks-and-mortar objects.”
Hill served as controller until the early 2000s, then became vice president. She was promoted to president and CEO in 2011.
“She always has a heart for the people Rochester Management can support,” said Dan Glading, senior project architect at SWBR and a frequent partner on affordable housing projects.
“Peggy has a perfect blend of warmth, generosity and kindness along with intelligence and strength. She doesn’t get befuddled easily and she’s incredibly trusting in us. She gives us confidence, and when we’re working together, you know you have each other’s backs.”
Hill will quickly point out that everything Rochester Management does is a group effort, beginning with the team of employees and extending to funding partners with the state or construction, architectural and engineering firms that create the housing.
“I always go back to thinking about the people that started Rochester Management,” she said. “All it took was starting that first site, and these are people that did it in their spare time. You just have to keep that mindset that everything we do matters. If it’s just one project this year, or two projects, it’s making a difference.
“We have the benefit of not thinking about shareholder value and profits, we’re really looking at meeting needs and creating sustainable housing.”
The organization places great value on its own employees as well.
“Rochester Management is 73 years old and we benefit from many very long-term team members,” Hill said. “We want to ensure that they have the opportunity and platform to share their experience and knowledge with newer team members. Both in the office and out in the field, these committed long-term team members enable Rochester Management to provide superior service to our residents and enhance facilities. Their knowledge and technical abilities are remarkable.”
Colleagues say Hill has some remarkable qualities of her own. Like finding ways to move a project along. Like maintaining composure and guiding the team over hurdles.
“There often are many obstacles to navigate when planning an affordable housing development, especially one financed with low-income tax credits,” Rochester Manager board chair Richard Mueller said.
“She’s been able to coordinate all those layers and she’s built partnerships with the state that have enabled us to move these projects along. It’s particularly an art form.”
Especially when it comes to quelling opposition.
“She’s able to introduce a project on a win-win basis,” Mueller said.
Hill prefers to believe successful projects happen because so many are looking out for the greater good.
“There’s always hurdles, there’s always something unique,” Hill said. “There could be soils challenges that could be astronomical in cost and you think, ‘What are we getting into, is this going to work?’
“But I feel this community we work in extends to developers, attorneys, accountants, engineering firms, architects, general contractors; everyone wants to see these projects work. There’s a shared mission across many different professions and that is just really inspiring, to see the commitment to make things work and make things better for people. I’m not sure you find that in every industry.”
The support from the RMI board also is invaluable.
“We’re dealing with pillars in the community that take their time and volunteer for us,” Hill said. “There have been board members that have served for 50 years. There are board members whose children then serve for us. They’re just always there, willing to help with guidance, support, ask the tough questions to make sure we fully vet everything.”
Rochester Management recently completed the first new-build developments in 47 years with Zion Hill Apartments and Meadow Reserve. Zion Hill was created in partnership with Zion Hill Baptist Church, and similar joint ventures with religious organizations are likely. Another single-family lease-to-own development is already underway in the Upper Falls neighborhood through a partnership with First Genesis Baptist Church.
“By partnering with these other groups, we’re able to achieve greater impact in the community,” Hill said. “I think it really opens doors for us. Our mission tends to be more centered on the people, sustainability and quality, and respect. We’re looking at the end user.”
Meadow Reserve, built on land once owned by Wambach Farms off Culver Road, was RMI’s first venture into supportive housing.
“We have two full-time people from Rochester Regional Health right on site Monday-Friday so they can evaluate seniors’ needs, and as needs are identified they can immediately link them up with services,” Hill said. “The goal is to help people stay healthier and independent longer.
“There’s just so much need in the community, and COVID made things even more difficult with people trying to find an affordable place to live. It’s just a challenge. Seeing how we can make an impact just drives us.”
It especially drives Hill.
“This was really Peggy identifying a need in the area,” Mueller said. “She saw the opportunity; she saw the need and she kind of bulldogged through to get the purchase contract and then arranged the financing.”
The lease-to-buy single family development will entail construction of 40 homes, educating the residents on homeownership and building equity, and then guiding them through the mortgage and purchase process. Hill said roots are strong in the neighborhood, and the homes fill a significant need. She had canvased the area as part of a neighborhood master plan projects several years ago and loved the devotion of residents. “I just saw how close-knit people were,” she said. “It was such a sense of community that you see all over the city of Rochester. That’s something to build on.”
And it’s something Hill and Rochester Management are committed to doing.
Title: President and CEO of Rochester Management, Inc.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting from St. John Fisher College.
Family: Husband Dan; two adult children, son Patrick and daughter Lauren.
Hobbies: Running, skiing, and spending time with family and friends.
Quote: “Our team members understand why we’re here, and every day we get this opportunity to impact individuals’ lives today, tomorrow, for their life. It’s a gift to us, really.”