This entrepreneur with the “can do” attitude has more than 30 years of business leadership experience. Owner of MDStrum Housing Services, designated by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency, the company has been offering housing development, construction management and technical and training support to housing firms and construction companies since 1981.
Dee Strum is also a public speaker, affordable housing advocate and feminist who believes that black women continue to hold the moral high ground in America and must raise their voice to elevate the conversation on gender and racial equity if America is to achieve its full potential in this new millennium. As president of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women (NCBW), Strum helps drive the coalition’s national agenda and actions of its 50-plus local chapters to influence public policy outcomes in a manner that benefits black women and girls. She reminds her constituents that “as goes the black woman, goes the black community.”
Madame Noire: What inspired you to start MDStrum Housing Services?
Dee Strum: The business was started as a sole proprietorship in 1981 and incorporated in 2001. The bigger question is “who” inspired me to start the business to get to the heart of “what” inspired me to start the business. I was influenced by the urban philosophies and work of Mr. James Rouse, a pioneer in urban redevelopment and best known now for his redevelopment and management of urban waterfronts such as Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and Boston’s Faneuil Hall, amongst others. But prior to these endeavors to restore America’s great cities, Mr. Rouse developed the “new city” of Columbia in Howard County, Maryland during my high school years.
Howard County was a rural county with lots of farmland and ideally located almost equal distance between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Mr. Rouse was greatly disturbed by the riots of the mid- and late-1960s. He saw the “race riots” not as they were portrayed, but for what they actually were: riots driven by poverty and despair.
As a member of the student government association, I served as an usher for these community outreach meetings and heard him speak many times on his vision of a city where every neighborhood would have housing developed for families at all income levels, providing for a continuum of housing opportunities to include “low-income housing,” affordable townhouse rentals as moderate income housing, single-family homes of varying costs and upper-end or luxury homes for purchase. All with a single goal in mind: to ensure that children from every income level would attend the same schools and share the same academic and social experiences. These new neighborhoods would be called “villages” and each village would have a village board “close to the people” to encourage and grow citizen participation.
As a high school student I had the privilege of sitting in a classroom with windows overlooking what was to become the construction of the Columbia town center, and I was enamored with the ideal that “where you live (and where you are educated) defines your destiny.” My future was defined, and I spent a summer as a high school intern with the Rouse Corporation and subsequently earned my undergraduate and graduate degrees in community development. I worked in local and state government for a few years after college in the areas of housing and community development and at age 28 I started my professional services company, MDStrum Housing Services.
MN: What types of services does MDStrum Housing Services offer?
DS: Our client base is largely governmental, but also includes private, nonprofit and faith-based organizations, as well as corporate foundations and other philanthropic entities that support the mission of affordable housing.
Since 2000, HUD has been our largest client followed by a myriad of local public housing authorities. Our core services include urban/neighborhood planning, contract administration and construction management, physical needs assessments, cost estimating staff development training, independent and financial assessments, agency improvement plans and staff and board development training. We also served as HUD’s disaster recovery contractor for Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav.