Home Based Lawyer helps bring affordable housing to Detroit residents

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

When Dykema attorney Rochelle Lento looks around Detroit, she sees plenty of housing challenges -- and satisfying results from two decades of her legal work and volunteer activities.

"I enjoy driving around Detroit and seeing affordable housing developments, which I've helped to close on the financing for, get built, and become successful," she says.

"Also, working for nonprofit developers who are mission driven is extremely rewarding as the leadership of these organizations are always appreciative, which makes the work and effort so worthwhile."

Lento, senior counsel for Dykema, leads the Affordable Housing Practice in the firm's Real Estate Department. She has worked in the area of affordable housing development in Michigan for 25 years, representing developers utilizing various financing tools such as Low Income Housing Tax Credits; Historic Tax Credits; State Brownfield Tax Credits; HOME, CDBG, and NSP Funds; and, more recently, Section 1602 and TCAP financing.

Recent significant projects include: Piquette Square developed by Southwest Housing Solutions, a new construction project utilizing 4 percent LIHTC, MSHDA financing, City of Detroit HOME funds and Brownfield Credits is a development providing housing and services for homeless veterans; the NSO Bell Building developed by the Neighborhood Service Organization, is an historic mixed use development, 9 percent LIHTC, City/County and State HOME funds, and NMTC providing 155 housing units and services for homeless individuals; and Detroit Affordable Assisted Living jointly developed by Presbyterian Villages of Michigan and United Methodist Retirement Communities, funded by 9 percent LIHTC, City/County and State HOME funds, and Brownfield Tax Credits will provide 80 units of senior affordable assisted living close to Detroit's riverfront.

"All of these projects involved multiple layers of financing making them complex real estate transactions, but all have community significance for Detroit's low income population," Lento says.

She was drawn to a law career when she worked for 5 years as a community organizer for ACORN -- the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. She earned her J.D. from the University of Detroit, and clerked at Goodman, Eden, Millender and Bedrosian in Detroit.

"I realized that being a lawyer could help me achieve greater social and community change," she says. "During law school, I did an internship at HUD, which inspired me to get involved in affordable housing development."

Past chair of the ABA Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development Law and past editor of the Forum's Journal, Lento continues to author editorials for the ABA Journal, and is co-editor and chapter author of "The Legal Guide to Affordable Housing Development," a joint publication of the ABA Section on State and Local Government Law and the ABA Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development Law.

"It's a practitioner's guide for the affordable housing attorney, covering a broad range of topics to assist the novice or the experienced attorney," she says. "It's a collection of chapters from some of the national experts in the affordable housing field."

Lento joined the Dykema team in 2005.

"I enjoy the camaraderie and support of colleagues, the amazing expertise and knowledge of excellent lawyers, the ability to get the support and expertise on complex projects, and the support of various divisions to do special projects or proposals," she says.

Prior to joining Dykema, she was Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School and Executive Director of its Legal Assistance for Urban Communities Clinical Program, and participated on various U-M panels, special projects and committees related to affordable housing, real estate development and Detroit-related activities.

"I enjoyed working with and teaching law students to become community and socially minded in their delivery of legal assistance," she says.

She and Mark Magidson, her husband of 25 years, have a daughter Ariel, 22, who just graduated from Lake Forest College and lives in Venice Beach and works in the commercial/movie industry; Joshua, 19, a sophomore at Michigan State University enrolled in the James Madison College; and Louie, 13, an eighth-grader at Friends School in Detroit

In her spare time, Lento enjoys reading and participates in a monthly book club; exercising; and volunteering.

She has participated on numerous boards related to housing and community development including the Community Legal Resources; Special Assessment District Coalition; Detroit Alliance for Fair Banking Coalition; Fair Housing Center Tester; and Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Advisory Board.

"My most passionate volunteer board work has been as a trustee for Friends School, a small Quaker school in Detroit where my three children have attended for the past 16 years," she says. "I've also served on my neighborhood homeowner's group, the Palmer Woods Association as board member and President; and I'm serving as board vice president of the recently formed People for Palmer Park, a non profit organization attempting to revitalize an important landmark park in Detroit."

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Lento has made the Motor City area her home since first arriving here in 1979.

"What I love about Detroit is the people, my Palmer Woods neighborhood, the sports teams, and as of late, a sense of hope for the future," she says. "Detroit also continues to present challenges in the area of affordable housing and community development, and in a small way, I feel my work makes a difference."

Published: Wed, Jan 4, 2012


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