2015 Awardee – Jessica Katz
Assistant Commissioner, Special Needs Housing
NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development
Ibo Balton (1954-2007) was an urban planner whose career improved the lives of people through the planned rehabilitation and new construction of affordable housing, and the creation of local retail and much needed community facilities. Ibo’s work at the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development from 1986 through 2007 took him to deprived communities in the South Bronx and Brooklyn, but he is best remembered for his groundbreaking work in Harlem, where he lived and worked. This award, named in his honor, represents a tireless commitment to members of often overlooked communities, and a vibrant spirit of innovation.
Born in Moscow, Russia, the child of two Soviet refuseniks, Jessica Katz was raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. From an early age, Ms. Katz knew what she wanted to do. At the age of 19, she left her urban planning program at McGill University to begin working in supportive housing full time. Though initially interested in becoming a social worker, Ms. Katz realized she was a born project planner. An eye-opening summer internship gave her the opportunity to combine her passion for urban planning with a deep drive toward public service. Ms. Katz currently serves as the Assistant Commissioner of Special Needs Housing and Senior Adviser. Her role was recently expanded to incorporate additional responsibilities, including the coordination of HPD policy on homeless and disability policy issues.
She received a master’s degree in urban planning from MIT. While in graduate school, Ms. Katz developed a 15-unit supportive housing project and then served as the building’s superintendent. This opportunity provided a very unique perspective: “I had front row seats to how the decisions I made as a project manager turned into people’s lived experiences.”