“If I can make a difference for even just one person, that’s what excites me,” Pamela Martin Turner says. Given her involvement in helping to build or develop what she estimates to be as many as 400 units of housing in Detroit, it’s likely she’s helped far more than just one person.
Martin Turner is the president and CEO of Vanguard Community Development Corp., a community service and development organization with a mission to help revitalize the city’s North End. She’s been involved in community development in Detroit for three decades, returning to her hometown after spending time on the East Coast — first getting her law degree at George Washington University and then working in Boston as a tax lawyer. All that led to a chance to attend the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
There, she studied issues of poverty and community development. It was the late 1980s and early 1990s, and she saw reason to bring her newfound skills to helping Detroit. Upon her return, Martin Turner worked in philanthropy and funding, then segued into working as the CEO of a few nonprofits and grassroots organizations. She ultimately found herself at what would become Northstar Community Development Corp.
“It was really satisfying work,” she says. “It made a difference in Detroit — you could see it and touch it, and the people in the community got an opportunity to work and be a part of the projects and really get the experience of changing their community.”
She’s now been at Vanguard for the last seven years and is in the midst of a $50 million multifamily development in the North End that will include senior apartments and townhomes. The project includes funding from Avanath Capital Management LLC, which is led by her former University of Michigan classmate Daryl J. Carter. Martin Turner brought the project to Carter’s attention.
“There are lots of ways to do community development, but housing development can be very powerful,” Martin Turner says. Her theory is that it’s very difficult to be a good citizen, a good spouse, a good worker, a good parent, or a good student if you don’t know where you’re going to lay your head at night — or if the conditions are substandard or dangerous.
“If we want people to live to their highest potential, we have to be able to provide decent, affordable, safe housing,” she says.