Feb 27, 2023

Mutual Housing Leader Roberto Jiménez “Can Smell Talent”

At 60, the youngest of 42 cousins oversees a staff of 85

By Ed Goldman

Lunching with Roberto Jiménez recently, I wonder aloud how a guy who majored in comparative literature at the University of Oregon—which I imagine does deep dives into the difference between “Beowulf” and “Canterbury Tales,” for example—ended up as the CEO of Mutual Housing California. 

The nonprofit corporation creates affordable communities for working class families, including farmworkers—which Jiménez’s family was for generations—as well as seniors and the LGBTQ population, among others in need of shelter.

Edgy Cartoon

Roberto Jiménez. Photo by Edgy.

“Well, it’s all about systems analysis, isn’t it?” he asks. I consider it to be a rhetorical question—mainly because I have no idea what the answer is and, frankly, barely even understand my own question. 

Mercifully, he explains. “Comparative Literature is interdisciplinary study,” he says. “It’s the analysis of the systems—philosophical, political, economic, legal, religious, linguistic, and so forth—that were in play at the point of time a work of literature was created. What realities and forces informed the writer and the creation of the work?” 

He says the work of developing affordable housing is also like three-dimensional chess. “Where are the obstacles and resistance to delivery of housing and where are the supports and resources?” he says. “We’re using private and public local, state and federal resources to deliver affordable housing to urban and rural contexts, communities regulated by a vast array of zoning requirements. 

And then you add people to the mix,” he says. “It’s both very analytical work and can be very abstract.” Chastened, my first impulse is to ask if any of this will be on the midterm exam. 

It comes as zero surprise that Jiménez brings this sort of thinking to the hiring process, as well, which requires both analysis and comparison. Even though, he says that despite the due diligence he deploys, “I can smell talent.”

Before joining Mutual Housing California, where he’s been for the past five years, Jiménez was consulting real estate director for the Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation, which took what he calls “a community-building approach” to encourage “self-sufficiency for individuals and families who are most lacking in opportunity.” The program’s market area was Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, and nearby segments of Los Angeles County. 

Mutual Housing California consists of 22 housing communities—16 in Sacramento County and six in Yolo County. Jiménez oversees a staff of 85 and manages about $500 million currently in development. The group has been going beyond its previous mission of simply refurbishing existing sites and has started building its own. Overall, roughly 3,500 residents make their homes in a Mutual project, each one featuring onsite 24/7 managers.

The organization, says Jiménez, “has three funding streams: real estate development—we pay ourselves to be the developers but we hire a general contractor for each project—property management and grants and donations.” The nonprofit corporation has 20 different administrative entities, just as a private sector corporation may split itself into a variety of companies.

Of Jiménez’s 11-member board of directors at Mutual Housing, there’s an almost equal split between residents and non-, meaning he always has his ear to the ground. Not everyone who runs a business is this fortunate. 

As for Mutual’s business model, “We provide three types of housing,” he says: “Workforce, senior and permanent supportive.” He says the organization is currently adding a health clinic into one of its communities, in Stockton. Mutual is also at work on a downtown Sacramento 240-unit community in partnership with the Capitol Area Development Authority, which was founded in 1978 with housing goals similar to Mutual’s but confined to a specific geographic area, the neighborhood surrounding California’s dome.

As aforementioned, Jiménez’s family goes back four generations in New Mexico and most of them are there now, including his 94-year-old father. At 60, he says he’s the youngest of his 42 cousins. While he was born in Oregon, and still owns a home there, he says his heart is with his family in New Mexico, and he hopes to someday return to the self-anointed “Land of Enchantment.”

Jiménez also lived in Turkey some years ago and is hoping to travel again this spring, with Italy being his targeted destination. I’d enjoy hearing him explain after he returns why he chose Italy as compared to other countries. I have the feeling this compassionate and analytical guy will know precisely why. Yet when it comes right down to it, fact, he’ll probably be able to smell it.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).