Then and Now: How LTSC's All-Women Real Estate Team is Carrying on a Trailblazer's Legacy - Little Tokyo Service Center

Then and Now: How LTSC’s All-Women Real Estate Team is Carrying on a Trailblazer’s Legacy

Former Director of LTSC’s housing arm, Judy Nishimoto-Ota, stands with Bill Watanabe in front of San Pedro Firm Building, LTSC’s first affordable housing project (left); LTSC all-women Real Estate Development Department (left to right: Kathleen Eagan Murray, Stephanie Park, Caroline Calderon, Debbie Chen, Minako Shirai Ferrante) stands in front of San Pedro Firm Building holding plans for future Skid Row affordable housing project (right)

This Women’s History Month, LTSC is reflecting on the legacies of women like affordable housing pioneer, Judy Nishimoto-Ota, who fought to create inclusive and equitable spaces for all. Judy’s work at LTSC helped pave the way for women to claim a place in this traditionally male-dominated field. 

“Judy began her career as a tenants’ rights attorney for Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles but left legal work to join LTSC. Judy directed its first affordable housing project, the 42-unit San Pedro Firm Building in Little Tokyo, in 1990. She became the first Director of LTSC’s housing arm (LTSC Community Development Corporation), and then later became the first Chair of its Board of Directors,” wrote LTSC Board Member, Kathy Masaoka, and former LTSC Director of Social Services, Yasuko Sakamoto, in an article about Judy’s legacy.

Today, LTSC is proud to have a Real Estate Development Department comprised of all women:

Debbie Chen, Director of Real Estate

Kathleen Eagan Murray, Assistant Project Manager

Stephanie Park, Senior Project Manager

Caroline Calderon, Project Manager

Minako Shirai Ferrante, Project Management Specialist

We spoke with LTSC Director of Real Estate, Debbie Chen, for her thoughts on the matter.

Why is it important for women of color to be leaders in the real estate development industry? What strengths does it lend?

It matters that women of color become leaders in the real estate development industry, because in today’s world that still doesn’t happen often. It’s important that we set an example to younger women who might look up to us. There’s no inexorable march of progress. Only the sum of our actions today can help shape the fate of tomorrow. We need to demonstrate to the next generation that they, too, may not only enter, but also excel in this career without compromise.

Have you ever worked on an all-women real estate team before? Is it uncommon? Do you think LTSC’s values and work environment played a role in this instance?

I have not worked on an all-women real estate development team until now. Traditionally and generally speaking, real estate development is a male-dominated industry. It is extraordinary that LTSC is working to create space for women of color to genuinely and intentionally lead in real estate development. Women of color have to work harder than others to come by such opportunities in this field. They’re often asked to sacrifice other identities and responsibilities in exchange for the pursuit of a career. But our team doesn’t have to do things the way it’s been done. We’re empowered to assert that the workplace can allow space for the other lives we lead. Working in this industry this past decade, I have stood on the shoulders of those who came before me. I hope to serve the same purpose for the other women of color on my team and in real estate development.

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