Making Affordable Housing More Affordable

How John Tastor '68 helped developers build more housing for low-income families

By Lindsay Martell, USF News Posted Wed, 02/28/2018 - 13:38

If you ask John Tastor ’68 what he’s most proud of professionally, he points to Glide Memorial Church’s three affordable housing complexes in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. One of those developments is for the chronically homeless and the other two are for low-income families.

“Those projects have changed the lives of several hundreds of families and formerly homeless people,” says Tastor, who helped make the Glide communities and hundreds more like them around the Bay Area possible before retiring earlier this year. “That kind of result is why I gravitated to the affordable housing world.”

Tastor was a major driver in building affordable housing in the Bay Area starting in the 1980s. He did this by, of all things, pioneering new types of insurance for affordable housing developers.

“If it sounds boring, it was anything but,” says the USF history alumnus and ROTC graduate, who founded insurance brokerage McNamara & Assoc., which later became part of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., one of the largest insurance firms in the world. “It was complex and required me to see issues from multiple perspectives and problem solve — skills USF’s liberal arts education gave me in abundance.”

More affordable, more housing

So how did insurance make building low-income housing easier? In the ’80s the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was reducing its role in affordable housing, which at the time consisted mostly of public housing high rises. As private and nonprofit developers began to fill the void, they needed to protect themselves in case of disasters like fire and against lawsuits related to on-site services such as day care or drug addiction treatment.

As a specialist in housing development insurance, Tastor saw an opportunity. He and his team set to work expanding traditional insurance products to accommodate the needs of affordable housing projects.

Once developers and other insurance companies saw the success of Tastor’s approach, they started offering similar products and more low-incoming housing projects were built. As one of the few experts in the state, if not the country, Tastor became a top California broker and worked on about 750 low-income housing developments in the Bay Area — transforming the industry and helping to address the low-income housing shortage of the era.

Today, low-incoming housing insurance is a $500 million a year industry in California.

Liberal arts was the key

“It’s a good example of how you can do almost anything with a Jesuit liberal arts education. It allowed me to be successful and to be an innovator. But it also taught me to look for opportunities to give back,” says Tastor.

Those Jesuit values led him to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity starting in 2000. True to his nature, Tastor was driven to be the best he could be at that too. He set records and has become a top fundraiser, bringing in $75,000 since 2011. 

He’s built five homes with former President Jimmy Carter as part of the nonprofit’s Carter Work Project and volunteered internationally on home-building projects in Vietnam and Haiti.

“There’s a passage in the Bible, Isaiah 58,” says Tastor. “‘If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.’ That’s my mantra.”  

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