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Low income housing developer hopes to govern

by Amy Kingsley

A gray cinderblock building with floral window boxes and modest landscaping sits among the abandoned industrial lots in east Greensboro. Pictures of finished houses decorate the walls of this homey dwelling, the office of Sandra Anderson Builders.

Administration of the business is a family affair, with Anderson’s two daughters handling most of the day-to-day production while she runs for an at-large city council seat. In her own house, clear across town on Daybreak Square she talked about her campaign on Oct. 13 and told some of the stories behind the pictures of houses hanging on her office walls.

The 60-year-old Anderson finished third out of eight candidates running to hold an at-large seat on the Greensboro City Council in the Oct. 11 primary. In her first run for public office, the builder won 20.3 percent of the vote, earning her a spot in the runoff along with incumbents Don Vaughan, Yvonne Johnson, District 4 representative Florence Gatten, and challengers Joel Landau and Diane Davis. The top three vote-getters in the November election will secure at-large seats.

‘“I am running to win,’” Anderson said. ‘“I knew I was going to do the best I could do, but I was really surprised at the results.’”

Anderson has lived in Greensboro almost 40 years and founded her building company in 1979 in the wake of her excitement about the first home her family built. The company, which now specializes in low-income housing, started out building larger homes. Anderson, whose family did not include any contractors, had to learn the ropes of the business herself.

‘“Looking back on it, I have no idea how I had the courage to start the business,’” she said.

The fledgling business averaged 12 homes a year until 1986, when she was offered the opportunity to develop a subdivision in east Greensboro. She asked for four years to develop and sell the property. Instead, she built and sold 30 houses in 10 months.

‘“I knew I had made a connection,’” she said. ‘“I look for opportunities where other people might not see them.’”

Since then, Sandra Anderson Builders has focused on low-income housing and earned a slew of awards from both community and building organizations. The local chapter of the NAACP recognized her company with its economic development award last year and she received the Athena Award from the Greensboro Area Chamber of Commerce that recognizes women who personify excellence in business in 1994.

Her decision to reinvent herself from lauded businesswoman to aspiring public servant occurred July 20 when she and her 11-year-old son were in St. Louis for the AAU basketball tournament. She spent several days e-mailing friends and politicians to gauge whether she should jump into the race two years before planned.

‘“You can dig deeper to make a difference when you are in the political side of things,’” she said when asked why she decided to run.

As a builder she has talked with council members and city employees about issues pertaining to her business. Other political involvement includes her service on the Housing Commission and the Board of Adjustment as well as campaigning for local politicians.

Anderson started campaigning aggressively weeks before the Oct. 11 election, buying billboard space around town and distributing yard signs. At candidate forums, she has explained her positions on everything from public safety to corporate incentives.

But economic development, she said, is the biggest challenge facing Greensboro residents.

‘“We’ve lost just about everything people did for money in this area,’” she said. Although the city council is working to lure corporations to the area, she said more could be done to support small businesses that employ 70 percent of the working population.

She also supports putting more police officers on the streets so citizens could get to know and trust them. Increasing the interaction between the police and the public would improve relations between citizens and officers more than the implementation of a police review board ‘— a proposal advocated by some community activists, she said.

A living-wage ordinance would get her enthusiastic support, Anderson said. Because so many of her clients are the working poor, she said she has seen firsthand the struggle of families trying to make ends meet on minimum wage salaries. Beyond her business, she also interacts with low-income citizens through a non-denominational church cooperative called Inasmuch, which brings food and clothing to residents of the city’s five public housing communities.

‘“As long as one segment of our population is not all right, then the city is not all right,’” Anderson said.

Living in a wealthy neighborhood near Lake Jeannette and working in impoverished east Greensboro, she said, has equipped her well to relate to constituents in all five districts.

‘“All people have to have an equal voice,’” she said. ‘“All districts have concerns and issues which I can hear with the same caring because I have worked in east Greensboro and lived in District 3. I am very capable of moving between all five districts.’”

Although she describes herself as inexperienced, she also said she is a quick study and determined to win the election.

‘“I have a really wonderful, full life with my son and my four grandkids,’” she said. ‘“There is no way I would possibly take time away from that unless it was for something I thought really needed to be done.’”

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com.

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