Archive for category: HAND Member Profiles

Five Minutes With EagleBank

September 27, 2021
September 27, 2021


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?
DK:

  • There is a continuing need for safe, decent affordable rental housing and supportive services in our local communities and EagleBank has made a significant contribution to the growth across the Washington D.C. market and in communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic over the last 20 years. EagleBank continues to play an important role in financing affordable multifamily rental housing, which has helped build and maintain safe and economically stable communities which significantly improve the quality of life for its residents. 
  • We have a tremendous opportunity to continue to make a contribution to the local community to provide much needed affordable rental housing through our deep relationships with affordable housing developers and investors, as well as EagleBank’s FHA multifamily business, which allows us to do business anywhere in the U.S. We are a community bank, with national capabilities with our FHA multifamily licenses.  I think that is a powerful combination.
  • My strong affordable housing and multifamily experience will augment EagleBank’s growing FHA multifamily business. In this new role, I will be dedicated to FHA loan originations, business development as well as serving as a resource for the Bank’s focused efforts on affordable rental housing. 

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. 

HANDRich, 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:

  • More than $81 million in financing to support a key affordable housing project in Bethesda MD, which includes 401 multifamily housing units situated on five separate land parcels.
  • Phase I of Addison Row Apartments, Capital Heights, MD a planned community consisting of a 321 unit multifamily building. The project is currently in lease-up. The community caters to workforce housing needs and in addition to affordability, offers large unit sizes compared to new construction in Washington, D.C. Phase II will add 327 units. 
  • A construction loan used in conjunction with 4% LIHTC to rehabilitate a 60 unit LIHTC affordable community located in the Barry Farms neighborhood of Southeast Washington, DC. After completion, a HUD FHA Section 223(f) refinance application to exit the bank construction loan.
  • A $50 million construction loan for a to-be-built low income housing project above retail space located in the Capital Hill area of Washington, DC. The project will utilize 4% LIHTC and a long-term rental subsidy contract with the DCHFA.
  • EagleBank is currently working on a few notable affordable housing transactions, including the renovation and recapitalization of a project-based Section 8 property located in the Anacostia neighborhood in Southeast Washington DC utilizing 4% LIHTC.

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. 

Five Minutes With Suman Sorg

September 27, 2021
September 27, 2021

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.

 

Five Minutes with Professor Anthony Cook

April 6, 2021
April 6, 2021

 

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 communitySo, 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, genderedand 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.

Five Minutes with Scott Kline

March 18, 2021
March 18, 2021


Scott Kline (President & CEO)

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 Stratis’ Scott Kline (President & CEO). Kline chatted with us about his extensive work experience in the housing and community development industry. He also highlighted the challenges he foresees for himself as he begins a new chapter of his career. Check out our dialogue below:

HAND: You have extensive experience in the housing/community development industry – can you tell us about your journey to this point?
SK: Sure!  My dad was a small developer down in southern Virginia. Growing up I frequently worked for him on weekends and over summers.  I really enjoyed the real estate development process – starting with nothing (new construction) or a mess (renovation) and transforming it into something new and beautiful.  With the combination of so many disciplines: architecture, construction, law, finance, asset management – it never got boring.  And the smell of construction!!!  When I graduated from college, I knew I wanted to work in the development business in the DC metropolitan area, which proved more difficult than expected.  I started working for a builder of new homes as an accountant, in hopes that I would be able to progress into actual development.  After two years, I realized that was a dead end.  From there I worked as an investment analyst for another large developer, until the Tax Reform Act of 1986 put them out of business and I was without a job.  It was then that I saw an advertisement for a position with responsibilities that included: negotiating for the acquisition of projects, developing scopes of work and financing plans, and project management.  It was for a “nonprofit” organization called AHC  formally known as Arlington Housing Corporation.  Candidly, I didn’t know what a nonprofit developer was, but the job sounded perfect.  The rest is history as they say.  I was hired by John Spencer, the founder of HAND, and I fell in love with mission-oriented real estate development.  I traveled to meetings with John when HAND was first established.  At that time, there was no annual meeting.  We met up with 5 or 6 nonprofits every few months, ate our brown bag lunches, and had informal discussions about the industry and our challenges.  HAND grew from there.  Eventually, when HAND achieved sufficient mass that an Executive Director was hired, I joined the Board and ultimately became the first President that was not John Spencer.  It was a tremendous experience. When John left AHC, I became the Director of Multifamily and coordinated all facets of real estate development, and oversaw asset management.

After eight years at AHC, I joined the National Housing Trust as Vice President. NHT was comprised of three of us at the time, and when I left after more than 23 years, there were 30 employees. Initially,  I worked on policy, development consulting, and assisted with running the organization.  In the year 2000, we started a separate affiliated 501(c)(3) corporation to develop and preserve affordable housing – NHT Communities formally known as NHT Enterprise Preservation Corporation. Added to my responsibilities was establishing and running NHT Communities. The work was similar to what I had done at AHC.  I gained the experience of developing affordable housing all over the country working with a variety of state and local governments. I’m proud of the accomplishments while I was there which included the preservation of more than 8,500 affordable units and incorporated $1 billion of financing.

Also at NHT, I established a separate affiliate energy company that focused on providing sustainable retrofits to existing affordable housing.  Most notably, we developed solar arrays which in total created 11,500 KW of electricity with financial benefits accruing to households of low- and moderate-income families and seniors.

HAND: Tell us about your newest chapter with Stratis. What excites you about your new firm? Do you foresee any challenges?
SK: For the first time in a long time, I’m not responsible for managing the organization, making payroll, and setting office policies that impact the lives of so many.  That’s a relief.  I’m excited about channeling that energy into more project work. I’m also excited about sharing my knowledge and ideas with others.  I’ve always enjoyed teaching. At the same time, I’m still learning.  There is nothing “cookie-cutter” about affordable housing development.  Every project is different and every developer has their own means, methods, and decision-making processes. I’m finding it fascinating to learn about new ways of approaching projects, different financing schemes, and different ways to run a development organization.

I do foresee challenges.  Mostly, I’m used to being the decision-maker.  As a consultant, I advise, providing the best counsel that I can.  But ultimately, decisions are made by my clients.  That takes some getting used to.

One thing I miss is the residents.  At AHC and NHT, I had a fair share of interactions with tenants.  That was informative and rewarding.  I don’t foresee having those kinds of relationships as a consultant.

HAND: What factor separates Stratis from other similar consulting firms?
SK: Me.  I have experience with a variety of financial executions.  In addition to low-income housing tax credits, tax-exempt bonds, multiple credit enhancements, and soft financing from state and local entities, I’ve worked on equity structures that do not involve tax credits, and utilized several HUD programs,  some of which allow for significant changes in rents.  Additionally, I’ve run an affordable housing development organization, so I’m familiar with the types of considerations and issues with which real estate developers are concerned.  In running that organization, I was responsible for all facets of the development, operations, and organizational management.  So regardless of my consulting assignment, I’m not approaching projects simply from the perspective of finance, and getting to a closing.  I’m conscious of other organizational considerations like predevelopment risk, sustainability, asset management, and resident services. 

HAND: What is one thing you wish you would have known at the beginning of your career?
SKThe business of creating affordable housing lacks the structure that is incorporated in some other careers.  For example, accountants receive ongoing training regarding their trade and to some extent, they do task A, then B, then C depending on the engagement.  While the complexity of the work certainly varies, there is some level of structure and predictable progression of the work.  Affordable housing development is anything but.  I’ve worked on projects that take 3 years from start to finish. I’ve worked on projects that take 12 years from start to finish.  Some involve intense local government participation, some involve virtually none.  Some involve intense resident participation, some involve none.  Some involve zoning issues and related processes which vary from one jurisdiction to another.   There isn’t a model or a template.  There isn’t a real estate development checklist that applies to every project.  I wish I had known at the beginning of my career that I would be teaching myself a process and that it would vary greatly from one project to another.  And further, that there is no one right way to do it.  If you provide the housing and turn a profit, you did it one of the right ways, and hopefully, you learn what you might have done differently that would have enhanced the outcome and maybe, just maybe, that knowledge will be beneficial on another project.

HAND: What do you think is the largest hurdle when it comes to creating and preserving affordable housing across our region?
SKBesides money?  More money.

HAND: What is your “why”? What keeps you motivated to continue your work in this space?
SKThe people we serve.  As noted above, I’ve had a fair amount of interaction over the years with the residents our industry serves —  families, elderly, supportive service recipients, homeless.  Their incomes have ranged from zero to low income to moderate-income to market rate.  I remember so many faces of low and very low-income residents as we celebrated their new homes.  The work is hard but at the end of the day, I’ve contributed to improving the quality of life for some individuals, and maybe even given them a platform to move up and create some wealth.

HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability? If so, what do you think that is?
SK:Absolutely not.  As noted above, there’s not cookie cutter approach to this work.  Every project is different and there’s not one single model for developing and presering affordable housing.

HAND: If you weren’t working in this space, what might you be doing?
SKHonestly I have no idea.  It’s a question that I’ve pondered.  But I really can’t picture myself doing anything else but this. 

Five Minutes with SC&H Group

November 23, 2020
November 23, 2020

Ron Causey (CEO), Travis Daniel (Director)

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 SC&H Group‘s Ron Causey (CEO) and Travis Daniel (Director). Causey & Daniel chat with us about the launch of the firm’s Affordable Housing Real Estate Service, which welcomed several team members from Hertzbach & Co. Check out our dialogue below:

HAND: A number of team members from Hertzbach & Co. have joined SC&H Group, launching an affordable housing real estate service at that firm. Can you share more details about this exciting move?
TD: Yes, we are very excited that our entire affordable housing real estate team joined SC&H Group. SC&H is a well-respected firm, and a great fit for our team and our clients – not only with respect to the diversity in services offered but also the company culture. The leadership of this group includes Andrea Hartman, Jeff Kleeman, Debbie Norris and me. Our group will be based in Sparks, MD.
RC: I’ll certainly echo Travis’ sentiments, and add that we are always looking toward the future, identifying new ways to expand our expertise to meet client needs, and reach new clients. In this case, it meant the opportunity to bring in many new team members that deepen our expertise in real estate and development tax issues and broaden our services to this industry. It was a no-brainer for us.

HAND: What is the affordable housing real estate team bring to the SC&H family? What can clients expect in the coming weeks and months?
TD: Our group encompasses a full-service team of tax, assurance and consulting professionals which focus on affordable housing. We have experience with all aspects of a project’s life cycle from pre-construction to exit strategies. We are very excited about the impact this will provide to bolster SC&H’s existing real estate capabilities. Our goal as a result of this transition was to continue to service our clients in the same manner but also expand our service offerings to our clients. With our move to SC&H Group we feel we will be able to meet this goal. Clients should expect to receive the same high level of service with the same group of professionals that have serviced their accounts for years.
RC: At SC&H, we are keenly focused on how we are serving our clients, colleagues, and communities. After spending time with Travis and the team and understanding their vision and values, we knew we were a perfect match. We are excited to welcome a new group of clients to the SC&H family that will continue to be led by a very talented group of professionals that is intimately in touch with their businesses and needs.

HAND: Can you tell us about your professional journey and how you landed in the affordable housing space?
TD: My professional experience started in the tax group at Hertzbach & Co. In that role I worked with many of the firm’s affordable housing clients. As our affordable housing client base grew it allowed me to spend 100% of my time in this space. I enjoyed the complexity of the industry and helping our developer clients meet this critical need.

HAND: What are you most looking forward to over the coming months?
TD: This transition was a long time in the making. I am looking forward to serving our clients from our new platform at SC&H Group and looking forward to expanding our group with several new team members. From a personal standpoint, I was at Hertzbach & Co. for 20 years and built many long-lasting friendships, and I hope to continue this relationship-building from my new home at SC&H. Thus far, everyone has been very welcoming and helpful. From day one, we knew we made the right choice.
RC: This was one of the most attractive parts of this opportunity for us – the ability to bring in folks that were just as passionate about their professional pursuits as their personal relationships. Throughout the process, and since the team has started, it has been clear they are good people who fit right into SC&H’s culture.

HAND: What is the most important takeaway(s) from your experience thus far that you’re bringing into your new role?
TD: I have learned that you can accomplish amazing things if you venture outside of your comfort zone. As a CPA we like our bubbles, but this transaction has helped me to get outside of that bubble. My goal is to continue with this mentality in my new role.
RC: There is no shortage of unique personalities and background at SC&H—it is part of what makes us special and enables us to challenge one another to do great work. We, too, like to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and it is always a positive when your colleagues are self-aware enough to recognize the importance of this.

HAND: What do you think is the largest hurdle when it comes to creating and preserving affordable housing across our region?
TD: The level of need.

HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability? If so, what do you think that is?
TD: I am not personally sold on the “secret sauce” concept. From my vantage point I see a lot of people trying to address housing affordability in different ways. It seems every solution is somewhat unique.

HAND: If you weren’t working in this space, what might you be doing?
TD: If I wasn’t a CPA in this space, I would likely still be working in the industry but as a real estate developer.

 

Five Minutes with LaToya Thomas

October 23, 2020
October 23, 2020

The HAND network is working tirelessly 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 chat with a new addition to our team, LaToya Thomas, HAND’s new Housing Indicator Tool Policy Director. Check out our conversation below, and you can learn more about the Housing Indicator Tool here.

HAND: You have extensive experience in the housing and community development industry – can you tell us about the journey you’ve taken to get to this point?
LT: Sure – it’s been a pretty colorful journey, to say the least.  First, for background, I’m trained as an urban planner with a focus in community planning, so that’s the lens under which I have approached my work in the various positions I’ve had over the past 15 years.

The bulk of my career has been spent working either in development or in architecture, and I worked primarily in project management, community engagement, business development, and marketing.  I also had the opportunity to work on projects that ranged from affordable and mixed-income housing to charter schools to public institutions, like libraries.  This background gave me a really unique perspective, as I was able to work on a mix of projects that were “community-serving” while also being able to sit on different sides of the table as these projects came to fruition and understand the many design, financial, and political considerations that are involved.

Now I am nearly 4 years into Brick & Story (sometimes I call it “The Lab”), as a way to blend my professional experience into a platform that can work creatively and in partnership the development community to bring the people we are serving into the conversation in a truly meaningful and intentional way.  Many say we focus on engagement and, while that’s true, we’re really focused on reconnecting people to the built environment and to the steps and processes that impact how the physical fabric of their community looks and feels – particularly because we know that some people have never had the opportunity to be part of the conversation around what happens in their community. 

HAND: Can you tell us about your latest role with HAND? What are you most looking forward to over the coming months?
LT: I am collaborating with the HAND team to support the regional rollout of the Housing Indicator Tool.  Much of my focus will be to provide education around the tool, design and implement activation events for the larger community to understand the tool, and facilitate policy discussions and help to influence policy decisions so that each jurisdiction is investing in appropriate resources and tools to meet their respective goals.

I am really looking forward to the regional dialogue and exchange that is possible and so badly needed around the issues of housing affordability.  I personally believe in the value of shared learning and collaboration when trying to solve problems like this, so I think the HIT presents an opportunity for all of to do so and helps us as a region guide our next steps.

HAND: What is the most important takeaway(s) from your experience thus far that you’re bringing into your new role?
LT: The importance of creative and collaborative partnerships rings loudest here; we often get stuck in our silos within the industry and forget the many different roles we each play in shaping communities, as well as the responsibilities that we have not only to each other as professionals, but also to the larger community of people out there who are impacted by the work we do and decisions we make.  We have a real opportunity to develop a true regional approach to addressing housing affordability at our doorstep if we are all willing to work together to understand what we each need to do to get there.

HAND: What do you think is the largest hurdle when it comes to creating and preserving affordable housing across our region?
LT: The lack of a coordinated regional approach is a major factor; our area is unique because int the District we are bordered by 2 states and 4 major counties, but depending on where you are, the real estate landscape can be like night and day.  Even the understanding of the need for housing affordability across multiple income levels is not consistent across the jurisdictions.  If the region can be thinking about housing collectively – not just from a production side, but also from a financing, subsidy, and policy standpoint – we might be able to tackle our affordability issues and see a bigger impact at the end of the day.

HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability? If so, what do you think that is
LT: I’ll name one ingredient in the sauce that I think is key, which is the issue of depressed wages for those who are in need of quality housing the most.  We can’t have an honest conversation about addressing housing affordability if we aren’t prepared to talk about how to pay wages that allow people to move along the housing spectrum, whether that is moving from rental housing to homeownership or moving out of public housing and into an affordable rental or homeownership option.   Housing affordability is not just about providing a roof over someone’s head; it’s also about creating a stable foundation for someone to grow and thrive socially AND economically.

HAND: If you weren’t working in this space, what might you be doing?
LT: Owning and operating a bed-and-breakfast.  I’m all about 1) acquiring real estate and 2) creating cool, interesting, and intimate spaces where people can relax and have a meaningful, hospitable experience. 

Five Minutes with Anne Venezia

May 19, 2020
May 19, 2020

HAND members are hard at work addressing the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these individuals and organizations within our membership. This informal conversation asks HAND members about their recent projects, the affordable housing industry and more. In the latest edition, we chat with Anne Venezia, Arlington County’s new Housing Director.

In my new role, I also look forward to further collaborating with organizations like HAND and MWCOG to share ideas and problem solve. The need for new approaches at a regional level has never been greater.

Ms. Venezia brings more than 20 years of experience in housing policy and finance.Combined with her deep knowledge of Arlington and strong interpersonal skills, she was the top candidate in a national search. In her new role, Ms. Venezia will direct the Housing Division’s portfolio of financial and development programs and services.

She most recently served six months as the Acting Housing Director and was the Housing Finance Manager for four years prior. Venezia joined Arlington County in 2008 and gained experience delivering strategic financial planning, asset management, multifamily development and acquisitions, and housing policy oversight. Check out our conversation below:


HAND: You have extensive experience in the housing/community development industry – can you tell us about the journey you’ve taken to get to this point?
AV: I started my career in consulting, working on housing policy and disaster recovery at two different firms before entering the public sector. I accepted a position with the Development team in Arlington County’s Housing Division in 2008, underwriting loans to support acquisitions of new affordable units and ramping up my housing finance skills in the process. Following a re-org in 2016, I moved to a newly created Finance and Asset Management team. While managing this team, I oversaw an annual budget of $30 million for housing programs (largely multifamily development) as well as asset management and compliance functions of the County’s more than 8,000 committed affordable units, nearly $400 million in multifamily development loans, and over 200 single-family loans. While much of my background has been on the finance and data side of housing, working directly with families benefitting from these programs — whether in disaster ravaged neighborhoods or onsite at one of the County’s affordable properties — has always had the greatest impression on me, and is a reminder of how important our affordable housing work is to support these households.

HAND: Can you tell us about your latest role? How are you dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 simultaneously?
AV: I served as Acting Housing Director from November 2019 until April 2020 and was offered the permanent Housing Director position at the end of April. Coming into this role during a national pandemic has its challenges – we’re balancing existing programs with new COVID-related relief programs, all while learning new technologies that enable remote work and virtual community engagement. Thankfully, we have a dedicated and hardworking staff that has surpassed expectations in meeting these new demands and we’re looking for opportunities to improve our service delivery that can continue into a post-COVID world.

HAND: What is the most important takeaway(s) from your experience thus far that you’re bringing into your new role?
AV: While metrics can be powerful in demonstrating how impactful a housing program is (or not), the people we’re helping through our programs need to be our central focus. Especially in this new COVID reality—when households are struggling more than ever to pay for basic expenses such as housing, food, and medical care—we need to constantly re-evaluate how we can help and anticipate emerging needs. And, as budgets tighten, evaluating which programs can serve the greatest needs will allow us to support as many households as possible.

HAND: What do you think is the largest hurdle when it comes to creating and preserving affordable housing across our region
AV: While there are many challenges to affordable housing in our region, limited supply and housing types are major drivers of these constraints. Even in the era of COVID, growth continues in our region; having a limited supply of affordable housing types drives up demand and prices for the limited options that do exist. There simply aren’t enough rental options in our region to meet demand, particularly for those households earning less than 60% of area median income (AMI). This results in public sector subsidies being the primary, if not only way for households earning <60% of AMI, to live in Arlington and other high-cost areas of our region.

Further exacerbating the problem is high land values in our region, which disincentivizes production of affordable housing types on these parcels. Land owners wish to maximize returns on their properties; often it’s not economical to build smaller and potentially more affordable housing types, rental or homeownership. Instead, the housing types built on these expensive parcels often are out of reach for most low and moderate-income renters and homeowners.

The good news is we’re in an economically strong region, which can provide us with the resources needed to address these supply challenges.

HAND: What are you most looking forward to over the coming months?
AV: The saying “innovation loves a crisis” gives me hope during this unprecedented time. As a County, we’re challenging ourselves to try new approaches to continue service delivery while staff is largely remote. While we’re faced daily with the devastation of COVID on our low-income communities, these challenges are sparking creativity in our otherwise daily tasks – how can we serve 10 households with a program that typically serves 8? Is it time to resurrect programs that appeared unnecessary years ago but now are relevant again? Can we rethink opportunities for housing affordability in the face of tightening budgets?

Larger economic changes, while challenging to those markets, also may present opportunities for affordable housing. As the real estate market changes due to an increase in remote work, New York City and other urban areas see increased office vacancies as opportunities to re-purpose these spaces for affordable housing. These types of approaches could introduce new options in the DC area as well.

In my new role, I also look forward to further collaborating with organizations like HAND and MWCOG to share ideas and problem solve. The need for new approaches at a regional level has never been greater.

HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability? If so, what do you think that is?
AV: Affordable housing challenges are complex – there isn’t a single solution that can fully meet the need. However, a multi-pronged approach could go a long way in addressing these challenges:

  • Increased supply and housing types. To meet the needs of our most vulnerable households, we need to diversify our housing stock to enable more types at a range of affordability levels. This includes reevaluating regulations that inhibit supply goals and limit affordable housing types.
  • Regional collaboration. As I shared earlier, organizations such as HAND and MWCOG enable our ability to share ideas and resources. Approaching affordability challenges more holistically will position us to provide greater options across the region.
  • Participation across sectors. This entails consistent and visible support from public agencies as well as resources and ideas from the private and nonprofit sectors. No one sector can solve the affordable housing challenge alone – everyone needs to work together to leverage our skills and resources.
  • Taking risks and trying new things. Addressing the many challenges to affordable housing requires a multi-faceted approach of traditional tools and new solutions. We need to be comfortable with trying things that maybe don’t work as intended and keep trying until an effective formula emerges. And, since affordable housing is part of a constantly evolving economy, we must always revisit our formula; solutions that work today may work differently as job and real estate markets change.

HAND: If you weren’t working in this industry, what might you be doing?
AV: Writing novels in a far-away mountain cabin. My family probably wouldn’t join me in a remote location, however, so I’d probably need to settle for writing in an inspired place closer to Arlington. 😊

Five Minutes with Moha Thakur

April 5, 2020
April 5, 2020

HAND members are working day in and day out to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these individuals and organizations within our membership. This informal conversation asks HAND members about their recent projects, the affordable housing industry and more. In the latest edition, we chat with Moha Thakur, Public Engagement and Policy Associate for National Housing Trust (NHT).

Moha first joined NHT in 2018. In her role, she focuses on state and federal public policy initiatives to preserve affordable housing and create sustainable, vibrant communities for low-income families with the goal of providing tailored policy recommendations based on best practices from around the country.

Most recently, she helped develop a housing policy framework designed to preserve existing subsidized and naturally occurring affordable housing in San Diego and contributed to a feasibility study on the creation of a naturally occurring affordable housing preservation fund in Houston. Her next project is with the City of Falls Church and will focus on updating their Affordable Housing Preservation Study. She also coordinates NHT’s policy work in D.C, focusing on the impact of policies and programs on the preservation of affordable housing in the District.

Moha was also a part of the Where Will We Live? campaign team, where she traveled around the country interviewing residents, property staff and community leaders on their lives, perspectives and what affordable housing means to them and the important role it’s played in both their lives and that of their community. As the National Housing Trust wraps up its two-year campaign, we spoke to Moha about Where Will We Live? and the storytelling toolkit, and what she hopes those in the affordable housing and community development industry can learn from it.

Check out our conversation here:

HAND: Tell us a little about your journey. How did you land in the affordable housing and community development industry?
MT: I’m originally from Canberra, Australia. I moved to Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2016 to start my Master of Public Policy at the McCourt School at Georgetown University. I didn’t know how long I’d be in D.C. and so I took the time to learn more about the city while I had the opportunity. In my time at McCourt I was a part of the Policy Innovation Lab and along with classes in Urban Policy and Law, Community Development Policy and Land Use and Zoning, I realized and pursued my interest in urban policy focused around housing and the often-overlooked importance of this vital piece of infrastructure.

The racial and social dynamics in Australia are very different to the US, and in learning and understanding what these were and how they have materialized in the housing and community development space, I wanted to continue my professional career in Washington, D.C. and work towards making an impact in local communities around the country. In my second year at McCourt, I was offered an opportunity to intern at the National Housing Trust, a non-profit organization that is committed to the preservation of affordable housing through policy, real estate development, lending and energy efficiency solutions. That internship turned into a full-time job after I graduated, and I’ve never looked back!

HAND: What does this work mean to you?
MT: The work I’ve done with NHT has been incredibly meaningful. It’s been really exciting to learn about the field of affordable housing and to seek out opportunities within the organization to support and advocate for affordable housing from a number of angles. Throughout the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination process, housing has been highlighted as an important issue and knowing that NHT is making such an impact on people’s lives around the country has been rewarding. Whether it’s walking the halls of Congress and meeting with congressional committee staff on appropriations, to being invited into someone’s home to learn about their often heartbreaking experience of homelessness and how they have created a home for themselves now in affordable housing, or speaking to fellow advocates and city officials who are trying to make their communities a better place, there are so many ways to make an impact in this field and to learn from others. I feel like in my two and half years I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.

HAND: Earlier this year NHT launched the Where Will We Live? Storytelling Toolkit. Can you provide a little background on the campaign and why this toolkit is important for our industry?
MT: As part of supporting the federal advocacy work of NHT, I worked on our Where Will We Live campaign. Where Will We Live? is a storytelling campaign launched by the National Housing Trust and Enterprise Community Partners in 2017 in response to the threat that federal funding for affordable housing would be halted. There were two goals in mind when we started this campaign: break down barriers and misconceptions by shifting the narrative around affordable housing, and uplift resident voices to the forefront of the conversation. My role was to build and maintain a network of regional alliances across the US, with the goal of increasing civic engagement among residents of affordable housing. Through this work, we interviewed more than 160 low-income residents across the country and shared their stories with congressional members, housing advocates and cross-sector allies to highlight the necessity of federal funding for affordable housing programs through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Through this campaign, we were trying to personalize these stories, and show that these were not just facts, numbers and figures we were presenting; these were the constituents of members of Congress and members of our communities who need access to affordable housing in order to live.

The storytelling toolkit includes lessons learned from the campaign that other organizations can use to integrate their resident stories into their own communications efforts. Storytelling is a powerful tool, and when done well can enact social change. We hope that other housing advocates can join us in this effort.

HAND: What do you think are some of the most important takeaways from the toolkit?
MT: There is a lot of helpful information there, but the key takeaways would be to clearly identify your audience and define your key message. I would also say a really simple, and practical tip, is the guidance on how to contact a property manager to conduct an interview with residents.

HAND: What is your greatest hope for the toolkit over the coming months?
MT: We hope that our colleagues who work in housing communications or policy and advocacy can use this guide to keep our residents’ voices to the forefront of the conversation when we advocate for affordable housing. It’s important for us to always remember that these are the people we are serving in our work each day, and it’s their basic needs that we should strive to meet in ensuring that there is adequate funding and affordable housing stock around the country. Through sharing their stories and raising their voices, they can be the loudest advocates in increasing funding and support for affordable housing around the country.

I’d be remiss to not mention that this toolkit, while created and used by NHT in the affordable housing field, is a vital resource that can be used in any advocacy work in any field – be it education, health care, disability rights, or immigration. Reframing the narrative to highlight the voices of individuals who typically lack access to the decision-making process on housing is one long term goal that we hope the toolkit can achieve.

HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability? If so, what do you think that is?
MT: If my travels and interviews with residents through the Where Will We Live? campaign taught me anything, it’s that housing instability is extremely common in this country and it could happen to anyone. I hope the idea that any of us might one day need these resources generates compassion and empathy and empowers advocates and policymakers to push for big ideas to address the affordability issues faced by so many in our communities.

HAND: If you weren’t working in this industry, what might you be doing?
MT: I’m not sure what I’d be doing if I wasn’t in the affordable housing or community development industry – my life has changed a lot in the last five years so there are a lot of what-ifs or turning points that I could look to. Maybe I’d still be in Australia!

I feel incredibly privileged to have found this path, to have been able to move to Washington, D.C. and learn so much about the culture of this country and this city that I’m now truly starting to call home. In addition to that, I’m grateful to have the chance to contribute to the work of our fellow housing and community development organizations in supporting people struggling with affordable housing access.

Five Minutes with Ernst Valery

February 25, 2020
February 25, 2020

HAND members are hard at work across the region addressing the growing housing affordability challenge. “Five Minutes With” is a series highlighting these individuals and organizations within our membership. This informal conversation asks HAND members about their recent projects, the affordable housing industry and more. In the latest edition, we have a dialogue with Ernst Valery, Co-managing member of SAA | EVI and member of HAND’s Board of Directors.

Check out our conversation with Ernst here:

HAND: Tell us a little about your journey. How did you land in the affordable housing and community development industry?
EV: I started out developing market rate row homes in Philadelphia – but my background as a planner did not allow the one-for-one exchange and ultimate displacement of low income families – often people of color and immigrants from the very communities that were redlined and starved of resources to sit well as a viable business model.  Inclusive development is the opportunity to serve a greater purpose and what the American Dream is really about.

HAND: Why is this work important to you?
EV: If you believe in what our Country stands for – the notion that genius is in every zip-code and we can dream of a better future – fueled by hard work and determination – the foundation of that world view is housing and community – our affordable/ workforce and community development industry! But we can’t stand still – we have to keep innovating and connecting the pieces – as well as broadening our scope beyond bricks and mortar.

HAND: Your latest project is Ministry of Brewing based in Baltimore. Can you provide a little background on how it got started and why you got involved?
EV: The start of Baltimore’s newest brewery began over two decades ago on the campus of Cornell University.  David Wendell and I were both on the football team, and the only two players living on north campus, because we lived in multicultural housing: I lived in the International House and David in the Native American program house.  Our walks back to north campus after practice revealed a shared value system of maintaining a sense of purpose and identity, strength in diversity and family, while reaching for life-long goals.  Thus began a decades-long friendship which now has them opening a craft brewery in the former St. Michael’s Church.

HAND: Can you speak to how it will impact the surrounding community?
EV: Along with great beer, an unmatched atmosphere and a fully-restored historic space, the brewery will feature an educational component aiming to teach under-represented young adults the art & science of microbiology and brewing, opening the door for them to participate not only in this emerging economy, but also in public or private research labs and any business where these skills are valued.  This is what it means to look beyond bricks and mortar and push to have a real positive impact on the lives of the people we serve.

HAND: You have extensive experience in affordable housing development as well. Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability?
EV: The secret sauce is first recognizing how we as a society have perfected classism and racism – both conscious and unconscious.  A longer conversation is required if that does not immediately make sense to you.

HAND: What advice would you have for emerging leaders in our space who are in the early stages of their careers?
EV:The current model is not perfect and still broken, and we need innovation.  Don’t be afraid to speak up when something just does not make sense and be relentless.

HAND: If you weren’t working in this industry, what might you be doing?
EV: I would be an immigration attorney or a journalist in oppressed places.  Something that deals with giving people a chance at a better life.

Five Minutes with FBDI

February 12, 2020
February 12, 2020

David Bowers (l), Vice President and Mid-Atlantic Market Leader and Ahmad Abu-Khalaf (r), Senior Research Analyst, Public Policy at Enterprise Community Partners.

HAND members are consistently striving to move the needle on the growing housing affordability challenge. “Five Minutes With” is a series highlighting the great work that our membership is doing across the region. This informal conversation asks HAND members about their recent projects, the affordable housing industry and more. In the latest edition, we have a dialogue with David Bowers, Vice President and Mid-Atlantic Market Leader and Ahmad Abu-Khalaf, Senior Research Analyst, Public Policy at Enterprise Community Partners.

Abu-Khalaf recently authored Enterprise’s report titled, Leveraging Property Owned by Faith-Based Organizations to Create Affordable Homes and Public Benefit. The rising acquisition cost of developable land, among other factors like the rise in construction material costs and shortage in skilled construction labor, has been driving the cost of residential development, impacting developers’ ability to create affordable homes. Through effective partnerships and informed decision-making processes, faith-based organizations (FBOs) who own underutilized or vacant property are able to repurpose their property to create affordable homes and public benefit. This publication assists FBOs and community stakeholders interested in advancing this strategy with understanding what it takes to successfully and effectively implement this solution and the different implementation approaches that can be pursued.

Bowers launched Enterprise’s Faith-Based Development Initiative (FBDI) in 2006, which brings technical assistance and financial tools to help religious institutions develop their underutilized land into new housing and community facilities or acquire existing housing to ensure long-term affordability. Enterprise has invested more than $154.8 million in grants, loans and equity with houses of worship across the region, resulting in the creation and preservation of over 1,300 affordable homes and one community-based health center with another 1,000 homes in the development pipeline. The FBDI has provided training and informational workshops to hundreds of houses of worship and faith-based organizations in the region.  Enterprise has expanded FBDI work nationally, with efforts taking place in cities including Baltimore, Denver, Miami and New York.

Check out our conversation with David & Ahmad here:

HAND: FBDI was established in 2006 and is still very relevant today. Can you provide a little background on how it started and why it’s important?
DB: The Enterprise Faith-Based Development Initiative was started because of our awareness of an acute need for the development of new homes affordable to low-and moderate-income residents in the DMV region. The DMV was and continues to be one of the highest cost real estate regions in the country. Land costs are high and the availability of land for new construction is limited. We knew about the extensive amount of land owned by houses of worship that could potentially be activated for the development of affordable housing and community serving facilities. In 2006 we spoke with Dr. Sam Marullo, who at the time was at Georgetown University doing research on land owned in parts of DC by houses of worship. Rev. Donald Isaac at East of the River Clergy, Police, Community Partnership was also an early partner we spoke to as ERCPCP was looking at how to provide housing for people returning from prison. Out of those conversations emerged the initial FBDI Call to Action in 2006 engaging the faith community in dialogue about the need for housing and community serving facilities (neighborhood serving retail, office, training) in their midst and the potential good that could be done on land owned by houses of worship. We discussed need, potential, the development process, who is involved and how to successfully navigate the process and players.

The Enterprise FBDI is still important today because unfortunately the housing and neighborhood facilities needs (access to healthy foods, quality affordable child-care, neighborhood-based health care, quality retail) are still dire in far too many communities across the region. The FBDI is important because it embodies a creative, sustained, multi-sector response to a compelling human need. It is an example of how we in the housing affordability/community development industry must be willing to work with usual and non-usual suspects and stakeholders in the drive to solve for the region’s housing affordability and other community well-being issues. It is important because it shows the power of leveraging the time, talent and treasure of multiple stakeholders – and what can happen when multiple partners move beyond their comfort zones to go deeper in the impact zone. A recent analysis by the Urban Institute announced at the 2019 FBDI Annual Summit noted that a look at 800 vacant parcels owned by houses of worship in just four jurisdictions in the region could potentially support between 49,000 and 109,000 units of housing. Given the housing needs in this region, that kind of potential should not be ignored by our industry.

HAND: Can you tell us in a few words about the latest report? What do you think are the most important takeaways?
AAK: In January 2020, Enterprise released a white paper that explores considerations and strategies for leveraging property owned by faith-based organizations to create affordable homes. This new resource assists faith-based organizations and community stakeholders interested in advancing this strategy with 1) understanding what it takes to successfully and effectively implement this solution; and 2) the different implementation approaches that can be pursued.

The importance of understanding what it takes to make informed real estate decisions, including but not limited to understanding the leadership structure and decision-making authorities, identifying necessary partnerships and resources, conducting due diligence and ensuring the proposed development’s financial viability. Another important consideration is balancing between the organization’s financial goals and long-term control over the property’s future use and financial benefit. Pursuing strategies like joint venture partnerships and long-term ground lease can help faith-based organizations attain some balance between attaining internal financial goals and public benefit. Finally, it is important to remember that there in no one-size-fits-all as every property and owner has its own characteristics and circumstances. So, what works for one site and one house of worship does not necessarily work for another – even when there are lessons that may be shared.

HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability? If so, what do you think that is?
AAK: There is no secret sauce. The answers sometimes are hiding in plain view. We as a nation need to have the will to commit the resources necessary – time, talent and treasure – to solve for the housing affordability challenge that has so many people living in housing insecure situations. The complexity of our housing affordability requires a range of solutions at all levels of government that include effective public-private partnerships. It will require a combination of strong and consistent public support for proven housing and community development strategies and promising innovations. It also calls for more private sector engagement and private sector investment that would boost resources and expertise available for tackling these challenges. Faith-based organizations are a key player in addressing the nation’s housing affordability challenges, including the scarcity of affordable homes. The rising land acquisition costs are derailing developers’ ability to create new housing affordable for low-and-moderate income households. Faith-based organizations with underutilized or vacant property can explore entering real estate development partnerships or long-term ground leases to leverage their land/property to create affordable housing, acting as engaged and proactive community partners.

HAND: What do you think is the largest challenge for Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) seeking to develop affordable housing?
DB: The lack of expertise and financial capacity to pursue real estate development. Since affordable housing development is commonly not part of faith-based organizations’ core expertise, they often lack the know-how and financial capacity needed to make informed real state decisions and successfully complete real estate development. While this challenge could discourage some faith-based organizations from repurposing their underutilized/vacant property into affordable homes, they can overcome it with effective partnerships that can provide them with access to financial, legal and real estate expertise necessary for making informed real estate decisions. One example is Enterprise’s Faith-Based Development Initiative, which offers faith-based organizations access to developers, capital, training on the development process, pro bon legal services, organizational capacity and development-related technical assistance. The fear of making a bad decision can cause an FBO to make no decision. The Enterprise FBDI approach is to equip FBOs so they can make informed “go or no-go” decisions and get connected to professionals to help move the process forward when the answer is a “go”.

HAND: What is your best recommendation for developers and other stakeholders who are interested in engaging FBOs? Are there any “don’ts” to stay away from in this process?
AAK: Being patient, clear and concise in communications is key, especially during the upfront negotiations. Affordable housing development is not necessarily the right answer for every parcel owned by a faith-based organization. Therefore, conducting comprehensive due diligence is essential for determining whether the property/parcel is suitable for affordable housing development. As the property owner, the FBO has the right and responsibility to investigate the range of possible options ahead of making a final decision. Further, while the faith-based organization might come to the table with a specific vision and development goals, it is essential to ground the decision-making process in the market realities and availability of financial resources. At the end of the day, any real estate proposal must be deemed financially feasible to access needed equity and debt from investors and lenders, and during this process it is important to weigh the trade offs between the possible paths. For example, the faith-based organization might find itself choosing between attaining a certain level of housing affordability vs. producing a desired number of affordable housing units. Ensuring that the real estate negotiation process is fair for all partners is very essential to achieve a fair deal with a balance between contributions, responsibilities and financial benefits. Developers should respect their FBO partners and the value of what they bring to the table – be it the land, relationships with local stakeholders, any financial resources and the power of their prayers. A developer should not tell an FBO partner to “go have a seat, we’ll handle this” in a dismissive manner, or tell the FBO “you wouldn’t understand this”. Engage the FBO as you would any partner you respect.

HAND: Your best advice for FBOs as they are approached by developers and other stakeholders?
DB: At Enterprise, we have learned some key lessons and have identified the questions/issues for a faith-based organization to be mindful of as it begins to explore development. All of this has been gleaned from our conversations with hundreds of houses of worship across the country – and from our deep dive work with dozens of faith communities actively working to develop housing and community facilities. A few key tips for FBOs:

  • Pray for direction and determination.
  • Be clear on what need in the community is being served. Have a market study and feasibility analysis done and have the findings explained to the FBO.
  • Don’t be pressured into a quick yes. Interview potential partners even if you know or really like the first potential partners. Ask a potential development partner if they have worked with a faith-based organization before. If they have not, explore their willingness to engage with some of the unique issues that come with a house of worship. Check references.
  • Be mindful of what each partner brings to the table, including the current and future value of the land owned by an FBO and value of any local relationships required for land use or financial approvals, as well as the value of the development expertise and financial guarantees a developer brings to the table.
  • It is critically important for an FBO to secure the services of a real estate lawyer who represents only the faith-based organization’s interest. In many cases a faith-based organization will select a development partner to “do the deal.” The development partner will often have a lawyer/firm they work with that can provide legal counsel for the partnership that will likely be formed, but still the faith-based organization should have its own lawyer.
  • Determine whether the house of worship wants to maintain ownership/control of the land over the long run? The answer to this question will inform options explored and discussions with partners including developers and real estate lawyers. Be thoughtful in the consideration.
  • Be clear on the short and long term financial and economic empowerment goals of the FBO. This will inform decisions related to keeping or selling land, and if keeping the land – what type of development and partnership options may be considered viable. In this era of increased talk of racial equity – more FBOs are being mindful of the economic empowerment goals they may want to pursue in a development – namely looking at targets for utilization of professionals/vendors from certain demographics. They are also being creative in negotiating partnerships that may allow for some residual income over time to the FBO or its related entities.
  • Understand the different timelines that houses of worship and development professionals operate under. For developers and related professionals – there is often a quarterly frame of reference. For the faith community – the frame of reference is eternity. Often you need to slow one side down and speed up the other side.

HAND: What are you most looking forward to over the coming months as it relates to FBDI?
DB: We are looking forward to continuing to go wider and deeper with our impact on the housing affordability challenge with the Enterprise FBDI and making progress towards our ten-year goal to help create at least 5,600 new units of housing on land owned by houses of worship in the DMV. This goal represents 10% of the target identified by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments of the number of new housing units needed above current baseline production projections to serve low- and moderate-income households. Our prayer and plan are to work to far surpass this target. Our FBDI training sessions – including those in collaboration with HAND, as well as with local governments and faith networks – along with continued technical and financial assistance – will allow us to make progress. The 173 new homes at the Gilliam Place apartments opened in November 2019 by HAND member APAH in collaboration with Arlington Presbyterian Church was the first development towards that goal since we made the announcement at the Annual FBDI Summit held in November 2019 in conjunction with HAND and the Washington National Cathedral.

We are looking forward to continuing to expand our public and private sector partners network – and encouraging the transformation of thinking in the marketplace where engaging houses of worship in housing affordability and community development efforts becomes the norm.