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Women Who Mean Business

Debra Shantz Hart is a Woman Who Means Business

Debra Shantz Hart owns three local businesses all focused on the same thing: affordable housing. Shantz hart is passionate about her community. She even served as the chair of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce board in 2018.

By Tessa Cooper | Art Direction by Sarah Patton | Makeup by KKD Beauty Café

Mar 2020

Debra Shantz Hart Owner, DHTC Development, Housing Plus and Sustainable Housing Solutions
Photo by Brandon AlmsDebra Shantz Hart: Owner, DHTC Development, Housing Plus and Sustainable Housing Solutions Purchase Photo

Providing affordable housing for families in the Ozarks and beyond is more than a day job for Debra Shantz Hart. It is a passion project fueled by the desire to make a positive impact on future generations, and it certainly keeps her occupied. But before she got started, she admits that she was reluctant to take on such a big task at first. “I realized that kids don’t choose where they are born,” Shantz Hart says. “I think the most compelling thing for me is that we can find a way to provide quality housing for folks that put them on a path to sustainability, and that has a positive impact on children in our community. That was the tipping point for me that convinced me to pursue it.”

But she didn’t arrive in her current field right away. Formerly a private practice attorney, Shantz Hart’s career plans took a sharp turn in 1995 when she responded to John Q. Hammons’s call seeking a “nitpicker.” “He wanted somebody to [help him dot the i’s and cross the t’s] on contracts,” she says. “He was in his 70s when I went to work there, and he was busy in the hotel development world. That job really nourished me. He and I became friends, and I think he enjoyed working with me.”


She began her job by reviewing contracts, then began accompanying Hammons on development trips and would help him craft development agreements. This exposed her to unique and large-scale transactions. Her time working for John Q. Hammons Hotels, and her career in legal work, came to a close in 2008 when she made the decision to put her new knowledge to the test and transition into development herself.

Originally, she intended to develop limited-service hotels in 2008, but she hit a roadblock when trying to gather financing opportunities. When an opportunity to submit an affordable housing application came her way, she jumped at it. She has been busy developing affordable housing ever since. 

Now, Shantz Hart can’t imagine working in any other real estate field. For her, it’s the moments when she meets thankful tenants that fuel her motivation. “When we just completed a project in Little Rock, Arkansas, this woman came up and asked me if I was involved with the project,” Shantz Hart says. “She said she had just moved into one of the units with her son. She said, ‘I just gotta give you a hug. This is the nicest house, and I’m so proud to live here.’ I don’t think you get that kind of satisfaction from virtually anything [else] in the real estate world.”

“It’s always easier for somebody else to advocate for you. I think this goes back to old stereotypes. But that doesn’t mean we can’t advocate for ourselves; I just think we have to do it in a different way than men.”
— Debra Shantz Hart

Currently, her days are bustling with property site visits and meetings with communities about potential developments. She owns not one, but three housing businesses: DHTC Development, Housing Plus and Sustainable Housing Solutions. To date, more than 400 residents in Missouri and Arkansas can thank her for providing attainable, comfortable housing that allows them to retreat from the world and still afford to meet other financial goals. 

Outside of her businesses, it’s one of Shantz Hart’s goals to encourage more women to serve on boards in Springfield, and as a former member of selection committees, she is quick to speak up when she feels that there aren’t enough women represented on a board.

Shantz Hart leads by example in this realm. She serves on a number of other nonprofit boards including the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association, Community Foundation of the Ozarks, and the Boys and Girls Club Trust Board. She was also the chairperson of the board for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce in 2018. 


Shantz Hart knows what it is like to be the gender minority in a boardroom full of men, so she believes that it is her responsibility as a woman to advocate for other women. “It’s always easier for somebody else to advocate for you,” she says. “I think this goes back to old stereotypes. But that doesn’t mean we can’t advocate for ourselves; I just think we have to do it in a different way than men.” 

As far as career moves go, Shantz Hart doesn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon. Springfield is home, and she sees an abundance of untapped potential. That's why she wants to continue to provide affordable housing to the community and encourage a healthy business climate around southwest Missouri. “I want to create projects that provide quality, energy-efficient housing together with tools to empower individuals and families to reach their highest potential,” she says. “I also hope to continue to have input to help Springfield be ‘The Springfield,’ and help our community be known as the best place to live, work and play in the Midwest.”

MORE ABOUT DEBRA

HOMETOWN

Springfield

FAMILY

Married with two kids and one soon-to-be daughter in law

FAVORITE WAY TO DECOMPRESS

Beekeeping, gardening and feeding birds

PUMP-UP SONG

“I don’t really have a pump-up song. I listen to sad country songs to relax.”

CAREER BREAKTHROUGH

Making the career switch from private practice attorney to working as in-house counsel with John Q. Hammons

ADVICE FOR HER YONGER SELF

“Even when you’re working for somebody else, treat the business as if it is your own. It not only makes you take ownership, but when you start taking that mental transition, it makes you do a better job of what you’re doing.”