Working for Smart Growth:
More Livable Places and Open Spaces


Network Founding Executive Director Sterner Wins Leadership Award

Smart Growth Award Category: Cary Edwards Leadership Award
Winner: Diane Sterner

Diane Sterner

Diane Sterner

The Cary Edwards Leadership Award recognizes individuals who have an outstanding commitment to improving the quality of life and promoting smart growth in New Jersey through sustainable land-use policy and practice.

The recipients of this award are dedicated to strengthening communities by encouraging redevelopment and development where infrastructure already exists and by preserving and enhancing agricultural and natural resources.

This year’s winner, Diane Sterner, is the founding director of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, a position she held for 23 years until April 2013.  This statewide association of 150 community-based development organizations was created in 1989 to enhance the efforts of these groups to create housing and economic opportunities, revitalize their communities, and improve the climate for community development in New Jersey. Her contributions to the field have both strengthened New Jersey’s community development sector and helped bring about state-level policy reforms critical to urban and lower income communities. Legislative milestones in which Ms. Sterner was central include the $10 million state rental assistance program (2004); the New Jersey Abandoned Properties Revitalization Act (2004), which created a number of new tools for acquiring and restoring abandoned properties; the Multifamily Preservation and Receivership Act (2004), which reformed New Jersey’s receivership laws and created a $1 million capacity-building fund for nonprofit property managers and receivers; the state Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit (2003), a tax credit for corporations with the potential to generate up to $20 million per year for community-based organizations implementing neighborhood revitalization projects as part of a neighborhood plan; and bills creating a $2 million state Individual Development Account program (2002). She also led a successful effort to get the state to develop a separate code for the rehabilitation of existing buildings.  Adopted in 1998, the new code has greatly reduced the cost of renovating older buildings for housing and other uses, contributing to a 60 percent increase in the amount of rehabilitation activity in New Jersey cities.

The list of Ms. Sterner’s non-legislative achievements is just as long. In 1992 she launched a statewide technical assistance and training center to work with community development organizations in the areas of affordable housing development, asset management, community organizing, neighborhood planning, economic development and organizational development. In 1993 she published a report critiquing the effectiveness of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, leading the state Assembly to convene a task force to investigate the agency’s practices and productivity and recommend extensive changes, many of which have since been implemented. And in 1995 she spearheaded the development of “An Affordable Housing Blueprint for New Jersey,” a comprehensive plan for increasing affordable housing opportunities, large portions of which were subsequently implemented by state government.

Prior to joining the network Ms. Sterner worked as a community development consultant with non-profit housing developers, and as director of housing and economic development for La Casa de Don Pedro, a community-based organization in Newark.  She has also helped found several other statewide organizations to address issues critical to the future of New Jersey communities, including the Coalition for Affordable Housing and the Environment and Homes for New Jersey.  She also serves or has served on the board of trustees of New Jersey Policy Perspective, the National Housing Institute and New Jersey Citizen Action. As a James A. Johnson Fellow in 2006, she helped found the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations (NACEDA) as a voice in Washington, D.C., for community development practitioners and a vehicle for bringing together state and local community-development associations to support the field.

Ms. Sterner received her B.A. from Kalamazoo College and an M.S.W. from Rutgers University Graduate School of Social Work with a specialization in community organizing and planning. She also has a certificate in community economic development from the Development Training Institute of Baltimore.

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