Teaching eighth-grade science in the Chicago Public Schools in the late 1960s, Dan Goodwin came face-to-face with the housing struggles of the west-side Austin community.
“It was a low-income area, and I saw great need among my students’ families,” he says. “They lived in crowded households with no quiet place to do homework. And they slept in crowded bedrooms, which resulted in children coming to school tired.”
With his $5,500 teacher’s salary, Goodwin wasn’t exactly affluent, but even as a young man, he had an eye for real estate and the desire to make a difference. He and seven other teachers scraped together $500 apiece to buy a vacant lot. Goodwin got financing and put up a single-family house, turning a tidy profit on the sale. The investor pool grew. He incorporated Inland Real Estate in 1968 and soon was investing on behalf of more than 100 people — mostly fellow teachers and relatives. He realized, somewhat reluctantly, that he needed to make a choice. He taught his last science class in 1971.
Today, Goodwin is CEO of Inland Real Estate Group of Companies Inc. in Oak Brook, Ill., a diversified business with 1,600 employees, focused on commercial investment, finance, and real estate–related services. Although he’s no longer in the classroom, he has been a teacher and mentor to thousands throughout his 46-year real estate career. He has advised local and state governments and contributed time and resources to more than a dozen civic and charitable causes.
“Dan’s classroom is everyone,” said William J. Carroll, president of Benedictine University, recently named one of the fastest-growing universities in the country — due in part to Goodwin’s leadership on the board of trustees. “He points the direction, steps out of the way, and says, ‘I’ll see you at the finish line.’ That’s a wonderful empowerment.”
Goodwin never forgot the housing conditions of his former students and eventually had the financial wherewithal to do something about it. In 1994, he founded New Directions Housing Corp., a not-for-profit dedicated to creating affordable housing. By then it was evident that massive public housing projects were not working; by 2000 the Chicago Housing Authority would call for the demolition of all of its high-rise developments.
“I picked the name New Directions because it gave meaning to what we were trying to do,” Goodwin says. “We were trying to get government to move in a new direction.” That meant building low-density affordable developments in middle-income areas where low- and very low-income residents could access public transportation and good schools.
Making Housing Affordable
To date, New Directions has created nearly 500 units of affordable housing in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. The need remains great, both in Chicago and nationwide. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, an estimated 12 million households are considered cost-burdened, paying 50 percent or more of their annual income on housing.
“Dan believes everyone should have a safe, affordable place to live,” says Rodger Brown, president of New Directions. “You couldn’t tell our buildings from a high-end development. We pass on savings that we get through grants to residents in the form of lower rent.” New Directions teams up with agencies and charitable organizations to provide programming and services, such as after-school tutoring, flu shots, and Meals on Wheels for seniors.
After 15 years as chairman of New Directions, Goodwin retired from the board in 2009, but he remains a hands-on contributor. “Dan is a mentor to me,” Brown says. “He’s helpful with the politics, approvals, financing, how to handle opposition. He helps us work through the maze,” adds Brown, referring to the complex web of local, state, and federal programs needed to make affordable housing developments economically viable.
It’s hard to imagine anyone better equipped to navigate that maze. In the early 1990s, Goodwin chaired an affordable housing task force in suburban DuPage County, producing a report that became a model for other communities.
Education remains one of Goodwin’s great passions. He served on the Board of Governors of Illinois State Colleges and Universities as an appointee of former Governor Jim Edgar, and for the past decade, he has volunteered in board leadership positions for both Benedictine University and Northeastern Illinois University. At NEIU, in 2004, a teachers’ strike threatened to end the semester, depriving students of their credit hours. Goodwin committed $400,000 of his own money keep students in school.
“Funding is very important,” he acknowledges. “But if you just contribute money, it doesn’t have the same impact — or feeling for you personally — as working alongside people you are trying to help. One of the goals of all the charitable activities is to help people live independent lives.”
That’s not so different from what he wanted for the kids in his science class, says former student Pamela Stewart.
“Dan saved my life,” says Stewart without a hint of hyperbole. “The neighborhood was pretty tough. It was hard to go to school every day because I’d get beaten up on the way. I would tell Dan about it, and he would listen and give me advice.”
In Stewart, Goodwin recognized a keen desire to learn. He gave her extra work, challenging her to think beyond her circumstances. “Had he not shifted my thinking and shown me that I mattered, I don’t know what would have happened to me,” Stewart says.
After he left teaching, Goodwin stayed in touch with Stewart — and about a dozen other students. Twenty years ago, she consulted Goodwin about a new career direction. He listened carefully, she says, then offered her an alternative — a position at Inland. Today, Stewart is Inland’s vice president of commercial transactions.
The message Goodwin shared with Stewart and her classmates was the same one he gives today: You can’t go through life without facing adversity. It’s how you respond that makes all the difference. Goodwin hearkens back to the words of Booker T. Washington. “Success is not measured by the level you reach in life,” he says, paraphrasing the former slave and early 20th century author and educator. “It’s measured by the obstacles you’ve overcome to get there.”