Home is an important concept to Krista Mills ’88 MEd.
For more than 25 years, she has influenced policies and carried out programs to help people get stable, affordable housing — homes they can count on. For the past few months, she’s held a top post in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development headquarters. She’s passionate about the agency’s work because of the impact that a permanent home has on people’s lives.
“Housing really is primary health care,” Mills said. “If folks don’t have a stable place to live, their children’s health may suffer, and they may not take critical medications on schedule or even at all. That is the connection between low-income housing and long-term, sustainable health.”
Her passion for housing began in Lynchburg in 1993.
She originally came to Lynchburg to teach, but she became interested in mental health counseling. After earning her master’s degree from Lynchburg College (now University of Lynchburg), Mills worked for a few years in several mental health settings. Then she learned about the movement to open Miriam’s House, which provides women and children with a place to live and helps them find a pathway to a permanent home.
Mills became the first executive director of Miriam’s House in 1993. “I really had an opportunity to design a program,” she said. “They gave me the approved grant application and said, ‘This is what we told HUD we would do. Here’s the building.’”
She got a lot of satisfaction from helping families overcome challenges and make progress toward sustainable incomes and housing. It made her want to contribute at a higher level. In 1998, Mills went to work for HUD, running field policy programs in Kentucky.
Her experience at Miriam’s House set her up for success, she said.
“A lot of people [in HUD] have been in the federal government their entire career and didn’t know what it was like to run a nonprofit, a food bank, or housing authority,” Mills said. “Running a nonprofit gave me the experience to make me a better federal employee.”
In March 2019, Mills became acting chief human capital officer at HUD, filling a critical leadership role while the agency was searching for a permanent person to fill that spot. One perk of her job is that she gets to design her next role. As her interim role draws to a close, she envisions herself working in field policy again, where she can have a direct impact helping individuals through HUD programs.
In May, she was at University of Lynchburg to receive the Elizabeth Forsyth Community Service Award from Miriam’s House. She reflected on how Elizabeth Forsyth, an early supporter of Miriam’s House, demonstrated selfless service. Other people who worked alongside Mills in Lynchburg gave her momentum and a mission.
“At Miriam’s House, I learned leadership from the people I worked with,” she said. “My board was very mission driven. That sort of leadership has really carried me throughout my federal career. I’m committed to the mission.”
She said her education at Lynchburg opened the door to these opportunities.
“I am grateful for my education at University of Lynchburg,” she said. “Had I not had that education, I would not have found my career path — mental health, Miriam’s House, and affordable housing.”