- POLICY ACTIVATIONS
Pictured:Rich Devaney and Dara Koller
The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry, and more. In the latest edition, we have a conversation with EagleBank‘s Rich Devaney, Senior Vice President and Dara Koller, SVP & Deputy Director. They chatted with us about their extensive experience in the affordable housing and community development industry and how they landed in this space. Rich highlights past challenges, lessons learned, and his advice to emerging leaders seeking to make an impact. Dara shares key takeaways from her experience, what she is bringing into her new role, and other her interest outside of affordable housing. Check out our dialogue below:
HAND: Both of you have extensive experience in the affordable housing and community development industry – Can you tell us about your professional journey and how you landed in this space?
DK: I have 20 years of industry experience, working in leadership roles at Freddie Mac and agency lenders supporting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac multifamily executions, primarily focused on affordable rental housing executions for both agencies, including new construction and preservation of affordable rental housing properties. While at Freddie Mac, I was also involved in the development and roll-out of a few new products supporting the affordable rental housing industry as well. When I first began working on affordable rental housing transactions, it was not the most well understood or popular asset type in the industry compared to market rate rental housing, but I always believed it was extremely important and I was excited to be part of an industry focused on solving the growing need for affordable rental housing in the U.S.
RD: I began my career just after the passing of the CRA legislation and immediately prior to LIHTC legislation being rolled out, working with and for some of the most respected and innovative industry icons in the DC market. It was an exciting time, fusing the tension between regulatory pressure in the banking industry and innovation and expansion of and in the community development and non-profit sector intent on increasing its impact in significantly underserved neighborhoods. My focus and vision was grounded in building high-impact community development and affordable housing businesses within and with large institutions (Bank of America, Fannie Mae, top 5 Life Companies) under the rubric of profitability, sustainability and scalability. My experiences took me through the capital stack and from neighborhoods to national presence. Throughout, my greatest experience to date was setting up this FHA business within EagleBank, coupling the best of financial strength, innovation and flexibility in its ability to deliver capital within the community it serves.
HAND: Rich, you launched EagleBank’s FHA Multifamily Lending Division in 2015, in addition to several other investment initiatives for the bank. Can you tell us about one of your largest challenges over the past six years and what you have learned?
RD: Our FHA Multifamily business is a product line that falls squarely within the Bank’s commercial real estate span of lending. As such, our task was to integrate this business in a collaborative way, not competitive, with the balance sheet lending activity, getting the buy-in from the line lenders and alignment in goals and objectives…..”Enlightened self-interest”. Having set up multiple businesses over my 35- year career, this one presented unique challenges, including how to integrate. It took a solid 3 years of repetition, “proving the thesis” and trust building to get to the point where the value chain is clear and tangible. Presently, every single transaction within the FHA pipeline will touch the Commercial Real Estate balance sheet. Lesson learned was that you can get buy-in strategically at the highest level, but you must get buy-in tactically where the rubber hits the road with the people who make the business happen.
HAND: Dara, you are fairly new to the bank – what key takeaway(s) from your experience thus far are you bringing into your new role?
HAND: Rich, do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability and creating more equitable communities in our region? If so, what do you think that is? What do you think is the largest obstacle?
RD: I believe the private financing vehicles and resources are readily accessible and in sufficient amounts to have great impact. There needs to be, and always has been, focus on equity in the delivery and availability of affordable housing. One of my greatest mentors emblazoned in my mind “you are what you measure”, so to solve issues related to equity, we need goals, transparency and accountability….period! My perspective is that the largest obstacles in the production of affordable housing are the public entitlement process, zoning, planning, and permitting. Some municipalities have processes that take up to 3-5 years which infuses risk, uncertainty and viability to the process.
HAND: Rich, what advice would you give to emerging leaders who are seeking to make an impact in this space?
RD: Be flexible – issues are rarely binary choices, every situation is a learning experience – accept set-backs as a gift and surround yourself with diversity – holistically.
HAND: Rich and Dara, what are you most looking forward to over the coming months at EagleBank? Are there any projects or programs that you are particularly excited about?
RD & DK: Furthering the synergies within the Bank, our investment in the Washington Housing Initiative and further coupling our balance sheet and FHA business.
The FHA Multifamily Group is an emerging contributor to the strategic goals and objectives of the CRE Group and EagleBank.
EagleBank financed a handful of key affordable housing projects in the Washington D.C market including:
HAND: Rich and Dara, if you weren’t working in this space, what might you be doing?
DK: I have always been interested in architecture and design, focused on creating and transforming spaces to meet the needs of a building’s occupants and looking for solutions to present and future issues, such as climate change. Incorporating sustainable and green building design in construction projects is increasingly important to reduce the carbon footprint and use our energy and water resources more efficiently.
RD: I have been consistent in responding to this question when asked over the past 30 years. I would be dedicating 100% of my time working in programs that focus on disadvantaged youth, focusing on education and financial literacy. To me, one of the biggest gaps we have racially and socio-economically is knowledge of and access to financial tools, products and services.
The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry, and more. In the latest edition, we have a conversation with Suman Sorg, Founder of A Complete Unknown. Sorg chatted with us about her extensive experience in the architecture and design space and her journey to this point. She tells us the origin and explains why she starting A Complete Unknown. She highlights what separates A Complete Unknown from other architecture firms. Check out our dialogue below:
HAND: You have extensive experience in the architecture and design space – can you tell us about your journey to this point?
SS: For over 26 years I grew my first firm, Sorg Architects, into one of the largest woman-owned architectural firms before its acquisition. During that time I was fortunate to have worked on projects in over 30 countries and was recognized with Fellowship in the American Institute of Architects (AIA). However, when I looked back the most meaningful work that I completed during that time were those that made the most impact on its occupants and the surrounding community. With this realization, I have now channeled my energies into this new non-profit design firm A Complete Unknown.
HAND: Tell us about how A Complete Unknown came to be. What prompted you to start this firm?
SS: With my previous firm, I did a lot of work in underserved communities or for people in need. They weren’t the largest or most glamorous buildings or the ones that made the most money but are the ones that I carry in my heart the most.
When we finished the John & Jill Ker Conway Residences in Washington, D.C., 120-units of permanent supportive housing, I was so touched by meeting the people who moved in and hearing about the impact that having this kind of housing has had on their lives. In fact, the first person to moved into the building was a guitarist in Elvis Presley’s band. After Elvis died, this gentleman joined the army and served in Vietnam. Hooked on heroin, and unable to connect with family, he landed in Washington DC after the war and was homeless ever since. At a computer room in the building, donated in part by my own family foundation which helps residents acquire basic computer skills, the staff was able to help locate his family. The joy on his face to learn that his sister lived just a few blocks away, was indescribable.
Now I want to only do buildings like these and serve communities, people, and nature in need.
HAND: What excites you about your work over the next year? Do you foresee any challenges?
SS: With A Complete Unknown, we hope to make an impact on a wide range of disadvantaged communities focusing on affordable and housing for the unhoused. There is an awareness now, that has been building for quite some time, actually, that empathetic architecture should be the norm. It’s not just what we design but how It impacts the surrounding communities, nature, and animals. The exciting part is seeing how other partners like developers or engineers are also understanding this and more importantly wanting to address this.
As for any challenges, It’s been clear to me in the first 7 months since we officially launched that there is a demand for the type of work we do. However, the big question is how can we get in front of the people who are doing this work such as non-profit developers and community leaders? If we can do that well, we can show them that we are here and are able to help you, right now.
HAND: What factor separates A Complete Unknown from other architecture firms?
SS: As a non-profit Architecture firm, we are driven by our mission which is making a difference through architecture and design in underserved communities worldwide. Therefore, the emphasis we place on equity and social justice is a critical part of what we do. We believe that good design should be accessible to all. Also, being a 501(c)3 organization we are able to pursue grants and to support our client’s philanthropic goals. Our services are offered at a discounted rate depending on the project, thus reducing the soft costs of development and helping more of these projects come to fruition.
HAND: What is one thing you wish you would have known at the beginning of your career?
SS: The act of designing and building is a long process so the relationship between a designer and client is like a marriage. You want a good partner who is going to trust you, have a good dialogue, and you can work with for a long time. We would like to get into a relationship like this with someone who matches our ethos, goals, and mission. It didn’t take me long to figure this out, but it’s especially true when working on projects where the economics are tight like affordable and housing for the homeless.
HAND: What do you think is the largest hurdle when it comes to designing spaces for underserved populations?
SS: Under-represented populations are often overlooked in a variety of ways and so there is often a lack of funding or commitment to these types of developments. When they do get funded they still tend to be underfunded for what needs to be built. This leads to buildings of lesser quality, with compromised programs and less durability. Also, these developments tend not to address the bigger picture. For example, truancy, literacy, and obesity are all issues that affect underserved communities disproportionately but are not addressed as regularly. These are the things that we also consider in every project that we take on.
HAND: What is your “why”? What keeps you motivated to continue your work in this space?
SS: In architecture school, I never heard about love, compassion, or empathy in our coursework. There is so much opportunity in the collaboration of architects, social workers, and volunteers and we need to promote listening, unselfconscious doing, and modesty in the profession. There is arguably no better sector to work with this perspective than in affordable and housing for the homeless. Being able to work collaboratively about how buildings fit within the context of the community and more importantly how they can serve those in need. That’s how we can make a difference.
With a design approach that is infused with the basic tenets of humanity, such as compassion, love and a pledge to nonviolence towards all – humans, animals and nature; we are searching for an architecture beyond one that does no harm or even withstands harm to one that can undo the harm. In this endeavor I happily find that the outcome and the path to it are both a complete unknown.
HAND: If you weren’t working in this industry, what might you be doing?
SS: Long before I became an architect my grandmother would say she thought I would be a doctor. I liked the idea as I would be doing something that helped people. But when my father met Louis Khan in Ahmedabad while working on the Management Institute and later Corbusier in Chandigarh, he suggested I look into architecture as a major in college. I did, and my artistic side fell in love. Without that guidance, I probably would have become a doctor. I have also painted for many years, so likely I would also be doing more of that.
A lack of investments, an unstimulated economy, and inadequate access to healthy foods, education and healthcare is not an unfamiliar reality of low-income communities. The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund) created the New Market Tax Credit Program (NMTC Program) to reinvigorate struggling local economies of low-income communities by breaking the cycle of disinvestment. The NMTC Program accomplishes its goal by permitting investors to receive a tax credit against their federal income tax in exchange for making equity investments in specialized financial intermediaries called Community Development Entities. The credit totals 39 percent of the original investment amount and is claimed over a period of seven years. The CDFI Fund recently announced those awarded the 2020 NMTC allocation. We are excited to uplift and congratulate our members who have received this award:
For more information, please see the NMTC Program Fact Sheet (English / Español). A detailed overview of the NMTC Program, including information on eligible activities, can also be found in the Introduction to the NMTC Program presentation.
AHF’s 2021 Readers’ Choice Awards Finalists
Thirty-six developments have been named AHF’s 2021 Readers’ Choice Awards Finalists. Each development was completed during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 or 2021 and built for families, seniors, homeless people, and people with special needs. With over 20 HAND Members represented in at least one of the finalist developments, HAND is proud to highlight our members who have contributed to the development of those projects. Check out the full listing developments here.
If you are an AHF magazine and newsletter subscriber then you can vote for the winners beginning on August 2nd until August 20th. The winners will be recognized at AHF Live: The 2021 Affordable Housing Developers Summit, on November 15-17, 2021 in Chicago.
The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry, and more. In the latest edition, we have a conversation with Georgetown University’s Law Professor Anthony Cook. Cook chatted with us about his journey and how he landed in the community development industry. He explains the origin story of GateBridge, his forthcoming affordable housing community that will provide opportunities for renters to become homeowners and workers to become business owners. He highlights what sets GateBridge apart from other communities. Check out our dialogue below:
HAND: Tell us a bit about your journey. You have a really interesting story and extensive experience in a number of fields – can you speak to how you landed in the community development industry?
AC:I was born in the small rural community of Magnolia, MS. It was a community of mutual aid associations and relationships that had the church at its core. While none of us called it this at the time, I later came to understand it was, in fact, a community of residents engaged in a practice of community development: building and renovating each others’ houses; borrowing tools and lending expertise and assistance on a wide range of endeavors – from homestead repairs to quilting and canning vegetables, from growing crops, slaughtering hogs, and sharing with those in need to co-parenting and providing employment and enrichment opportunities for children. On the other hand, it was Mississippi, and one of my earliest childhood memories was of a cross being burned across the road in the churchyard – one of many threats against Black churches and communities involved in the civil rights movement and demanding the right to vote and equal rights. The community came together in many different ways to protect itself against domestic terrorists who intended to undermine democracy and harm our community. It was a tumultuous time, as are the times in which we live today, but growing up in that community taught me the importance of simultaneously building community through what we now call placemaking and establishing the necessary preconditions for communities and individuals to flourish. These were the laws, policies, structures, and systems that impacted life and opportunities within our community. So, in many ways, community development, a very rich and textured understanding of the term, is part of my DNA, and I have Magnolia, Mississippi to thank for that.
HAND: Let’s talk about GateBridge. How did it come about?
AC: As a Georgetown law professor, I’ve practiced and taught in the field of community development and affordable housing for many years. I understand the limitations and often contradictory policies around affordable housing for low-income and workforce populations. This work has led me to believe that building more affordable units is a necessary but insufficient solution to our present crisis in affordable housing, particularly as a tool for fighting poverty. The crisis facing under and disinvested communities are complex and intertwined. Poverty is highly racialized, place-based, gendered, and age-concentrated. These populations need quality housing in a stable and secure environment that furthers health and wellbeing, access to nutritious food, living wage jobs, and home and business ownership opportunities. All of these are interrelated parts of a larger problem sitting at the intersection of poverty and longstanding structural and systemic racism. In the future, affordable housing solutions will need to anchor affordable developments with the kind of robust placemaking that expands the capacity of residents and community to tackle these interrelated problems. GateBridge is a vision of how this can be accomplished – affordable residential units anchored by an incubator for placemaking and the kind of cooperative and community enterprise development needed to build the entrepreneurial capacity of residents to find solutions to problems confronted by their communities. It was this kind of rich and intentional placemaking and economic ecosystem that made it possible for a kid like me to thrive, despite growing up poor in one of the poorest states in the country. I believe these communities can do the same for others.
HAND: What sets GateBridge apart from other communities?
SK: GateBridge is a community of change-makers. It promotes multifamily limited-equity cooperatives anchored by an incubator for cooperative and other community businesses. GateBridgebuilds resident and community wealth by providing an opportunity for renters to become homeowners and workers to become business owners.
HAND: What excites you about this community? What challenges do you foresee?
AC: GateBridge Communities center placemaking as an indispensable tool for impacting under and disinvested communities. Only by building the capacities of residents to plan and execute their own community development can initiatives become sustainable. Sustainability is crucial to any long-term effort to reform structures, systems, and practices in place for generations. The primary challenge for GateBridge is building its balance sheet and finding balance sheet partners that can help expand our capacity to build a portfolio of GateBridge communities in the DMV and region.
HAND: What is one thing you wish you would have known at the beginning of your career?
AC: I wish I had appreciated then, as I do now, the vital need for legislative reforms in this space. In many ways, the system creating affordable housing shortages and our present crisis is designed to do exactly what it is doing. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different result. Innovations in the market are possible around the edges, and GateBridge stretches the existing system to its limits, but to scale GateBridge-like innovations requires a different system of financing affordable housing. It requires recalibrating priorities around brick and mortar development on the one hand and human development on the other. Like GateBridge, the human development component can no longer be an afterthought. It must be an integral part of development, built into the capital stack and funded with the precision and care of the building itself.
HAND: As someone who took somewhat of an untraditional route into community development, what do you think is the largest hurdle when it comes to creating and preserving affordable housing across our region?
AC: Access to low cost and less extractive capital is essential. Federal funding programs like LIHTC make the construction and preservation of affordable housing much more complicated than it needs to be, largely because financing structures based around tax credit incentives serve the interests of an investor class over those of local communities. Low-interest federal loans channeled through community financial institutions to vetted and approved local developers, preferably those with a strong track record in the community, should cover ninety percent and more of the total cost of qualifying developments. Revising affordable housing financing structures would go a long way in meeting the demand for affordable and secure housing. Furthermore, there should be pathways to at least limited equity ownership for residents of multifamily units.
HAND: What is your “why”? What keeps you motivated to continue your work in this space?
AC: Many BIPOC communities have been devastated by a long history of policies originating beyond their communities: urban renewal, investment in suburban growth and the disinvestment in urban centers, redlining, gentrification, and inefficient neo-liberal, supplyside tax credit programs that have benefitted those not residing in under and disinvested communities more than it has benefited those within the communities. The pendulum must swing back in the direction of community-generated affordable housing anchored by the kind of placemaking and community wealth building envisioned by a GateBridge Community.
HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability? If so, what do you think that is?
AC: Community-based access to long-term, low-cost, debt financing that covers at least ninety percent of the costs of producing affordable housing, along with funding for metrics-driven, evidence-based human development supports that improve residents’ quality of life and helps move them to greater self-sufficiency.
HAND: What is one thing most people don’t know about you? Do you have any hidden talents?
AC: I love traveling, fine dining, music, and stimulating conversation around visionary ideas and the nitty-gritty of bringing them to life.