We take a multi-disciplinary perspective to generate pragmatic solutions that respond to community needs.

ABOUT THE FOUNDER

Jennifer LeSar CEO and Founder,
Global Policy Leadership Academy

Jennifer LeSar combines a background of more than three decades in community development, real estate development and investment banking with a deep working knowledge of eco-system change management and organizational strategy.

She is the CEO/Founder of several systems change and sustainable communities-focused firms.

LeSar Development Consultants, founded in 2005, works specifically on systems change interventions to end the housing affordability and homelessness crises. In 2017, Ms. LeSar launched the Housing Policy Leadership Academy (HPLA), an education and engagement program for leaders and influencers designed to forge comprehensive regional housing solutions and identify actions needed to effectuate structural change and solutions.

Ms. LeSar earned an MBA in real estate and finance and an MA in Urban Planning from UCLA, and a BA from Bryn Mawr College in political science and economics. In 2014, she completed the Executive Program in Social Entrepreneurship at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

OUR STAFF

PAM KESTNER, Chief of Staff

Pam Kestner has spent over 22 years involved in efforts to effectively reduce homelessness at the local and state levels. Before joining LeSar Development Consultants, she served as Chief Deputy with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. As Chief Deputy, she focused on developing and implementing Virginia’s first statewide rental assistance program to ensure tenants remained housed and landlords remained whole during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pam’s role also focused on eviction prevention, creating affordable housing for vulnerable populations specifically through collaborative efforts across the housing and health sectors.

Pam also worked in the Virginia Governor’s office for five years primarily shepherding the commonwealth’s plan to end homelessness, which utilized Pam’s skillsets of facilitation and consensus-building through a collective impact approach to achieve significant outcomes in reductions in homelessness statewide. Prior to her appointment within the State of Virginia Executive Branch, she served as President and CEO of the Council of Community Services, a nonprofit health and human services planning agency in Roanoke, VA. Pam holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Emory & Henry College and an MSW from Virginia Commonwealth University.

HELMI HISSERICH, Managing Director, Global Housing Practice

Helmi is a director at the Global Policy Leadership Academy, an immersive training and education firm focused on bringing best practices in housing solutions from around the world to U.S. civic and policy leaders. She has worked with various civic, community, and elected leaders throughout her career to advance affordable housing and economic development policies and programs in the City of Los Angeles. 

During her 25-year career with the City of Los Angeles, Helmi served as Deputy Mayor of Housing and was a senior manager at the Los Angeles Redevelopment Agency and the Los Angeles Housing Department. 

In her role with GPLA, Helmi leads delegations of California policymakers to Vienna, Austria, to gain in-depth knowledge of the internationally recognized Vienna Social Housing Model. A resident of Los Angeles, Helmi holds a BA in Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California and an MBA from Cornell University with an emphasis in finance. She has attended the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard Kennedy School and, in 2016, was awarded a Stanton Fellowship for thought leadership in housing.

Anu NatajaranANU NATARAJAN, Managing Director, Global Housing Practice

Anu Natarajan is an urban planner and designer with a unique perspective that has been defined by work experience in housing, land use planning, and development in the private, consulting, public, non-profit, and political sectors. In her various roles as project and program director, city planner and planning consultant, program director for civic engagement, and vice-mayor/councilmember, she brings leadership, a unique perspective, and depth of knowledge in land use development, public policy, communication, and working with cross-sector partners at all levels.

Most recently, she led the $1.1 billion housing initiative at Facebook/Meta, where she facilitated the production of housing with the Community Development Fund, provided investment funds to scale innovative construction, and worked with the development community on middle-income housing, including a public-private partnership to build teacher housing. She currently teaches a graduate-level class at San Jose State University that focuses on the intersection of private development and public planning processes in partnership with the Urban Land Institute.

Prior, Anu focused on working with cities to share best practices, identify sources of funding for affordable housing, and provide technical assistance to planning staff as policy and advocacy director at MidPen Housing. She has served on the regional planning committee at the Association of Bay Area Governments and was the first Indian-American in the Bay area to be elected to the Fremont City Council, serving as a council member and vice mayor for ten years.

Anu grew up in Bangalore and graduated from Architecture School. She moved to Seattle on a Rotary International Scholarship as an “Ambassador of Goodwill” and earned her Masters’s Degree in Urban Design and Planning at the University of Washington, Seattle.

NATALIE DONLIN-ZAPPELA, Director, Partnerships & Climate Practice

Natalie Donlin-Zappella has worked at the intersections of community development, health, and housing in the nonprofit sector for nearly 20 years in roles as an organizer, planner, educator, and facilitator. She currently serves as the Director of Partnerships and Climate at the Global Policy Leadership Academy, leading initiatives to advance effective systems change to today’s most pressing challenges—housing affordability, equity, and climate.

Bringing deep experience in working across sectors with nonprofits, public agencies, and community development sectors, Natalie currently directs and guides initiatives focused on collaborative governance and resilient housing to advance equitable outcomes in housing, infrastructure, and environmental justice. In prior work as a Principal at LeSar Development Consultants, Natalie led the Policy and Legislative Research and Applications Team and client projects related to housing policy, sustainability and equitable community development, and community-driven affordable housing preservation.

Before joining LeSar, Natalie worked for Enterprise Community Partners in Southern California for over 5 years, supporting anti-displacement, neighborhood and regional development, resilience, and sustainability initiatives. She received her dual master’s degree from University of Michigan Ann Arbor in urban planning and social work. In Michigan, Natalie held positions with the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, and the Program on Intergroup Relations at University of Michigan. Natalie has formal training in social justice education and intergroup dialogues, and has extensive experience in designing and facilitating coalitions, workgroups, stand-alone workshops, and participatory research practices to identify shared priorities and solutions.

In 2019, Natalie was recognized as an Impact-Maker to Watch, nominated by the Chief Resilience Officer of the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti.

ARIA POUNAKI, Team Manager, Manager, Community of Practice

Aria Pounaki brings experience in advocacy, housing policy, and affordable housing development to his role in GPLA. Aria is passionate about addressing housing affordability through the production and preservation of housing across the housing continuum. He has worked as an associate project manager at the largest nonprofit affordable housing developer on the West Coast.

Mr. Pounaki graduated from Marquette University with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and Spanish, and holds a certificate in Real Estate Development & Finance from the University of San Diego. He resides in San Diego.

ARIA CATANO, Manager, CA Housing/Homelessness Curriculum

Aria Cataño is passionate about addressing the housing and homelessness crisis through grassroots organizing and cross-sectoral innovation. Prior to joining LDC, Aria worked as a communications and land use specialist at Lee Andrews Group, where she managed multiple community outreach projects in the Los Angeles region.

She is also active in addressing water insecurity issues within unhoused and low-income communities in Southern California. Aria holds a master’s in Urban Planning from the University of Southern California.

BEA STAMBUK-TORRES, Manager, Vienna Field Studies

Beatriz Stambuk-Torres has been working and living in Vienna to deepen her knowledge of the Vienna social housing model and to translate the unique policies social housing approach into a language policymakers can use to implement similar systems in the United States. 

Beatriz is a researcher who is passionate about supporting initiatives that prioritize access to affordable, quality housing for all. Beatriz previously worked as an Associate at LeSar Development Consultants (LDC) where she provided expertise on numerous California public sector jurisdictions topics, including building affordable housing on public land, rehabilitation of hotels into housing for people experiencing homelessness, community land trust development, California wildfire disaster recovery, and regional preservation of unrestricted and restricted affordable housing. 

Beatriz has also worked as a housing researcher at UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, a California housing policy think-tank, where she co-developed two published policy reports. She has worked internationally for several years as an Environmental Analyst to secure water rights for Ecuadorian farmers. She has three years of experience as a nationally certified Spanish interpreter in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and holds a master’s degree as a city planner from UC Berkeley.

JACQUELINE WOO, Manager, CA Legislative Analysis

Jacqueline is passionate about using storytelling, policy, and data analysis to develop and preserve affordable and sustainable communities. She has worked on housing and homelessness policy in Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, with Citi Community Capital, and with the Colorado-based COVID-19 Eviction Defense Program. Prior to focusing on this issue, she worked in the private sector and has extensive project/product management, business strategy, and big data analytics experience. Jacqueline earned her MPA from Columbia University and bachelor’s degree in Economics from Emory University.