About Our Founder: Rusty Lawrence
Rusty (pictured left) celebrating the opening of 26th & Clarksville with Rev. Bill Barnes (center) and Mayor Megan Barry (right)
Throughout his 30 year career as Founder and Executive Director of Urban Housing Solutions, Rusty Lawrence matched considerable entrepreneurial and management talents with his innate passion to improve life for those around him, becoming one of Nashville’s most accomplished servant leaders along the way. Time and again, he united multiple parties to accomplish the exceedingly difficult task of creating affordable and supportive housing.
A Nashville native, Rusty had a heart for service long before the founding of UHS. Following his graduation from Vanderbilt University, he spent two years in Brazil as a member of the Peace Corps, involved in local development initiatives. After completing graduate studies at American University, he began his career in Washington D.C. with The Inter-American Foundation, a well-known foreign aid agency. However, he eventually left what would have been a successful career in international development to return to his hometown of Nashville, serving his longtime neighbors as a social worker and by restoring old homes. His management capabilities and dedication to service quickly earned the recognition of his peers.
In 1983, he was named the director an agency called the Council of Community Services (CCS). At the time, CCS was tasked with identifying “gaps” in social services to various communities and bringing together public and private partners to develop solutions. These efforts leveraged millions of dollars to develop and implement programs that addressed frailty in aging populations, healthcare for low-income populations, mental illness, civic engagement, and volunteerism. Rusty’s creative vision helped to found collective impact agencies that continue to operate in Nashville, including Neighborhood Health (formerly the Downtown Clinic), Age Well (formerly the Council on Aging), the Young Leaders Council, the Coalition for the Homeless, Neighbor 2 Neighbor (formerly The Neighborhoods Resource Center), and the Center for Social Research (which became the strategic planning and research arm of Metro Social Services). However, when a project was presented to CCS to address housing for individuals experiencing homelessness in 1991, Rusty discovered his calling in affordable housing development, and the rest is UHS history…
In the early days of UHS, Rusty played the role of director, bookkeeper, social service coordinator, property manager, and maintenance technician, to ensure residents had safe, decent housing. However, as is this case with all successful entrepreneurs, he invited others to share and build on his vision, which allowed UHS to become Nashville’s largest nonprofit housing agency. Over the years, UHS has created some of the most effective housing interventions that serve Nashville’s low-income and vulnerable communities. In addition, UHS has helped revitalize and stabilize previously distressed communities, preserving “islands of affordability” in a city where real estate values have skyrocketed in recent years.
Rusty has spent a full career serving Nashvillians most in need. As a leader whose work has literally opened thousands of doors, Rusty worked hard to foster an “open door” culture at UHS, as well — and this core value still guides us today. Rusty continues to extend his legacy: since retiring as Executive Director in 2020, he has remained engaged with affordable housing development efforts as a consultant to UHS and other nonprofit organizations around the city.
“This place is a stepping stone, and I’ve been stepping up.”
“I count my blessings every day that I found Urban Housing Solutions.”