Xiomara Cisneros, a housing manager at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), says she is proud of the work CZI has accomplished thus far and is inspired to, “think boldly and work towards a reality where systems change is possible and all communities thrive.” (Photo by Dale Ramos)
The people closest to our society’s most pressing issues should be the ones to inform solutions and drive change. So when we say to “stay close to the work” at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), we mean it. Our teams partner with educators, families, community leaders and organizations, scientists and more to make sure the voices of those impacted are always heard.
In Stay Close to the Work — our new blog series named after one of our core values — we’ll feature a CZI team member and explore how he/she/they stay close to the work. Learn about their journeys to CZI, the work they’re involved in and their goals for CZI’s future.
I hope that one day no one is houseless, that everyone has a safe, stable home. And every neighborhood is full of opportunities and benefits accessible to all — regardless of their background or race.
Our first Q&A is with Xiomara Cisneros, a housing manager at CZI. Explore Xiomara’s story in her own words and get to know how passionate she is about her work on the Housing Affordability program — a team dedicated to ensuring everyone has a safe, stable and affordable place to call home in the Bay Area and beyond.
What Does Your Role as Housing Manager Involve?
My role is unique where it’s split into two different areas. Half is dedicated to various programmatic efforts — like our place-based work in the Central Valley region of California or supporting grantees and partners with their policy advocacy using a 3 Ps framework (producing more housing, protecting tenants and small owners, and preserving existing housing). The other half is internal operations, such as budget and team management. Straddling these two roles, I can deep dive into an issue (like addressing the Bay Area’s housing crisis spillover effects in the Valley) while having a bird’s eye view of all our efforts.
Our goal is to empower, work with, and work for communities. So, I have the opportunity to support our team in building California’s public and political will for housing, supporting innovations in housing construction, shaping how land is responsibly developed, or challenging how public and private actors invest within housing markets.
Tell Us About Your Journey to CZI.
After spending my career in this space, I’ve learned that some of the solutions to our housing crisis have been identified — albeit challenging to implement given the complexity of the issues. This is one of the reasons I was attracted to working at a philanthropy committed to housing. I wanted to put what I’ve learned over the years to work. But, more importantly, I wanted to empower communities, listen and learn from the leaders in the field, and work collaboratively towards solutions.
How Does Your Work at CZI Relate to Who You Are and Your Values in Life?
In every personality test I take, empathy consistently ranks as one of my top strengths and values. I’m not sure if that’s always true, but I can see how that could apply to my work.
I grew up housing insecure, living in unconventional housing for many years before my aunt took my family and me in. I was lucky because I always had a roof over my head. Still, the precarity of our living situation took a toll on my family, and I’ve come to understand how housing stability can influence the trajectory of one’s life.
I pursued my career in housing and land use education, organizing, advocacy and policy reform for these reasons. Childhood zipcode has significant implications for future success. Health, access to services, quality of jobs, food, transportation, and, probably most importantly, education are primarily determined by where someone grows up. I hope that one day no one is houseless, that everyone has a safe, stable home. And every neighborhood is full of opportunities and benefits accessible to all — regardless of their background or race.
Balancing the Demands of Work and Life Is Difficult. How Do You Prioritize Self-Care?
Regularly working out is important to me for my health, and it’s how I take some personal time during the day. It’s easy to get glued to the laptop with meetings and events, now more accessible in our new virtual working world. I also try to spend time with my family every day by taking an evening walk with my fiancé and our puppy, Eevee (yes, like the Pokemon!).
What Do You Enjoy Most About the Housing Program and Team?
I believe in what I do. I know so many folks who do what they do for the paycheck, the benefits, etc. But, unfortunately, there are not many of us out there that are passionate about our work. And in some small way, as a collective, I’m optimistic that we’re progressing towards addressing this persistent housing crisis.
Not only do I enjoy my work, but I also enjoy the people! I feel lucky to work with humble, brilliant and wonderful colleagues. When I finally met some of my teammates in person, it felt surreal to connect with them in 3-D.
I look forward to meeting and hugging them all in person soon!
What’s Your Favorite Aspect of Being Part of CZI?
Like many organizations these days, we’re operating on a goal-setting framework called OKRs (objective and key results). However, unlike some organizations, we potentially have the means and capabilities to meet some of these incredibly ambitious goals that we set for ourselves.
The Housing Team likes to challenge and refine our strategy to ensure we’re working towards our North Stars of building public will and sustainable supply, and ensuring equitable access to housing. Given CZI’s commitment to building a more inclusive, just future for all, I’m inspired to think boldly and work towards a reality where systems change is possible and all communities thrive.
How Do You Hope To See CZI Grow and Evolve Throughout the Next Five Years?
CZI’s mission is to build a more inclusive, just and healthy future for everyone. As a newer philanthropy, we’re still learning how to be agile and efficient. I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished so far. Within five years, we’ll hopefully see the impact of our contributions in the communities that we supported — a glimpse of a truly integrated and inclusive society where all have the opportunity to succeed.