Jim Knight's early dreams were all about a career in baseball. As a player in college, a coach and a professional player for a brief stint, the Greensboro, North Carolina native lived and breathed the game. But when volunteer work with a church group brought him to Washington, D.C. and an internship placement brought him to Jubilee Housing, his life was forever changed. "The people living in Jubilee Housing had an amazing readiness for change which helped and challenged me into making changes in my own life," he says.
After the internship, Knight spent three years in Knoxville Tennessee working with homeless men, then moved back to DC in 1998 to serve as coordinator of a men's transitional program. In 2002, he returned to Jubilee Housing – this time as Executive Director. The organization was at a crossroads: Jubilee's eight 75+ year-old buildings had never been renovated and their poor condition created a steadily deteriorating quality of life for Jubilee residents. Jubilee Housing lacked the capital reserves needed for even routine maintenance, and constant repairs to aging heating, plumbing, and electrical systems were a strain on financial resources. In addition, real estate prices in Adams Morgan had skyrocketed, making the neighborhood virtually unaffordable for working class families.
Other executive directors facing this situation might have recommended that Jubilee sell its valuable but aging buildings and use the financial windfall to create affordable housing in a less gentrified neighborhood. But Knight cared deeply about the welfare of his tenants and the future of Adams Morgan. Under his leadership, Jubilee reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining the economic diversity of Adams Morgan by offering apartments to low-income residents at a fraction of market rental rates.
In 2005, the organization launched an ambitious plan to raise $50 million to gut and renovate the seven buildings and provide additional support services for residents. Jim brought the same energy and momentum to the project that he had brought to the game of baseball. He demonstrated that he had a clear understanding of the practical, day-to-day aspects of realizing this plan and convinced his board that the renovations were essential, that financing could be obtained, and that Jubilee could make dramatic and lasting improvements in the lives of its residents by professionalizing its own operations.
Juggling many responsibilities simultaneously -- arranging financing for the properties; overseeing the contractors; relocating displaced residents; raising money to expand services; and upgrading the organization's financial systems – he still always found time to make personal connections with his tenants. "He is in the trenches, not in some far off office," says long-time Jubilee tenant Margaret Wanjui. "He has spiritual grounding and a sense of community and responsibility. He's a genuine goose bumps kind of guy."