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Community Corporation of Santa Monica Welcomes New Executive Director Sarah Letts  

By Melonie Magruder
Lookout staff

April 8, 2011 -- When Sarah Letts took the reins last week as Executive Director of the Community Corporation of Santa Monica, she hit the ground running.

The non-profit organization responsible for developing and managing much of the city’s affordable housing currently has three years worth of projects in the pipeline, and Letts is determined that all should go forward fully funded and fully utilized.

Letts has the experience to negotiate the multi-agency minefields inherent in developing affordable housing in some of the most desirable zip codes in the country.

For 11 years, she worked for Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association) – the beleaguered mortgage lending giant that, along with Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporations), owns or guarantees more than half of the nation’s $12 trillion mortgage market.

“CCSM is in a relatively strong position,” Letts said in response to a query about how she will handle the current market downturn and financial crunch.

“There’s always a crisis, but we’re strong enough and flexible enough to do what we need to do and continue offering Santa Monica residents properties they can afford.”

Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM) relies on a mix of public and private funding resources to develop and manage housing with rents priced to meet the needs of an economically and ethnically diverse clientele.

The 29-year-old agency develops newly constructed properties and rehabilitates older buildings with an eye toward environmental responsibility for lower-wage working families. Currently, CCSM owns about 80 buildings in the city.

Letts was born and raised in Pasadena, attended Stanford University and earned a masters degree in urban planning from the University of California at Los Angeles.

She worked for a non-profit organization that developed housing for homeless people before moving to Fannie Mae but said that her current position has her targeting housing devised more for the city’s working poor or for those on limited incomes.

“I really found my niche here,” Letts said.

“I’m better at housing finance and getting people together to get deals done. There’s an important need,” she said. “Homeowners get mortgage interest rate deductions that are not available to everyone. Most people in Santa Monica are renters and they subsidize homeowners. As a community, we need to dedicate more resources to affordable housing for lower income families.”

Letts plans on spending some time studying what has made CCSM successful before she figures out how to “make it even better.” She admires the low-density Mediterranean look of some of CCSM’s housing and the incremental approach to incorporating green-building design into their projects.

When asked how her experience with Fannie Mae helped prepare her for her current position with CCSM, Letts sighed expansively.

“I learned you can’t succumb to pressure,” she said. “You have to know your organization well enough to make decisions based on long-term plans.

“From 2005 to 2008, Fannie Mae was under huge pressure to make ridiculously risky loans with an eye toward short-term profit,” said Letts. “We all know how that turned out. So you have to be tough and think long range.”

So, before Letts devises a 20-year strategy for CCSM, she will be “getting to know” Santa Monica intimately: the demographics, traffic flow, residential needs and city resources.

“Santa Monica is very progressive,” she said. “I look forward to making it an even better place to live.”

For more information on Community Corporation of Santa Monica, visit its website at


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