A lesson in building and protecting affordable homes

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The Jonathan Rose Company is one of the largest developers of affordable housing in the United States. Since 1989, the for-profit New York developer has delivered to more than 100 affordable and mixed-income communities, such as the new 709-unit Sandero Verde in East Harlem, a mixed-income housing project that will house people of all income levels , including those who were previously homeless to middle-class income people. It is the largest passive house development in the country and includes on-site social services and a 20,000 square foot courtyard.

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Another notable project is Via Verde in the South Bronx, a nearly 10-year-old, multi-award winning, 222-unit building that is mostly low-income rental and 71 middle-income co-ops, and includes a medical clinic and 1½ Community garden on Acre’s site. The leading developer has made it his mission to build housing not just for the lucky few, but for all sections.

“And by the way, to give you some perspective, a family can buy a two bedroom duplex apartment, with washer and dryer, two bathroom, really nice apartment, for $159,000. [U.S.] $1,500 a month, with the total cost between mortgages, taxes, and everything else under the co-op program, and then owning an apartment, which is now worth a whole lot more,” said founder and president Jonathan Rose. Said in an interview last week.


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Born in 1952, Mr. Rose began working for a large, successful family development firm founded by his grandfather and great-grandfather in 1926. But inspired by the civil rights movement, they decided they wanted to build green housing. And really affordable. He wanted to grow his business on a national scale, and build partnerships with cities and not-for-profits. The Washington-based Urban Land Institute recently honored Mr. Rose with the ULI Award for Visionaries in Urban Development.

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“I’m very lucky. I was born with a calling. I was born into a family of market rate real estate developers who did some affordable housing. My father and uncle, and their father and brother were developers in New York City and I loved the idea of ​​building and building communities, but at the same time when I was quite young, I was deeply interested in conserving environmental and social issues,” he says.

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Mr. Rose is a developer and urban planner, and the author of a book on the future of cities, called The Well Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilization, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life.

He also created a garrison institute in a beautiful old monastery, which offers seclusion and organizes seminars on planetary health.

And he is on the board of Enterprise Green Communities, which bills itself as “the only national green building program designed with and for the affordable housing sector.” He sits on board with actor Edward Norton. Mr. Norton’s grandfather was urban planner and developer James Rouse, who was an early inspiration for Mr. Rose because Mr. Rouse saw urban development as meeting civic values, not just profit margins.

He says that a city is not just a bunch of dense buildings. Useful development integrates with the community. People need housing, but they also need access to good schools, work and health care, parks and open spaces. He calls them a “community of opportunities.”

“A lack of affordable housing is a symptom of a system that is out of balance,” says Mr. Rose. “The best solutions are integrated solutions.”

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He also disagrees with the ubiquitous abstinence that if sufficient market-rate supply is created, prices will eventually fall and affordability.

“I’ve been hearing this all my life. Supply is important, but it won’t solve the affordable housing crisis – especially in a place like Vancouver, which is physically supply-constrained. And secondly, construction costs are expensive. Affordable Housing has to be subsidized. Essentially, the market cannot build affordable housing. If the market builds too much—even if there is a 10 percent drop in rents or a 10 percent drop in selling prices—it Affordable housing is not going to solve the crisis.”

Also, he adds, affordable housing is not one-size-fits-all.

“The need for affordable housing is extremely diverse, and there are many elements that the market will not naturally create. So the market alone cannot be the solution. That is number one.

“We’re increasingly understanding the need for supportive housing, housing that comes with some sort of social services, and the market isn’t going to build it. So there are parts of the market that will solve the over-supply, but that’s only It’s a small part.”

He says government subsidies are the key to their development, which is typical of how the most affordable housing is built around the world. That subsidy could take the form of government grants, or tax credits, or even increased density.

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“Over the past 20 or maybe 25 years, every rental housing built in New York City has been built with 25 percent affordable housing because it made the most money for developers. This is called inclusive housing, and it constitutes a special type of housing. … From a social point of view, they fit in very well. You can have a very high level building and if you have people who are nurse’s assistants and teacher’s aides, and other people who are in great need of affordable housing, that works. It’s part of the toolbox.”

It is only one tool, among many, he says. His company has created five affordable housing conservation funds. The fifth fund closed a year ago, raising US$525 million with 260 or more investors, including pension funds, high-net-worth individuals, university endowments, registered investment advisors and foundations with the goal of investing in— With Social there was a solid return on both. and environmental returns.

He takes a two-pronged approach, building new affordable housing that is mixed-income and green, and buying existing affordable housing, much of it built in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“we Especially buy them if they are at risk of gentrification, and we protect them as affordable, and with all of our projects, both new and conservation, we bring social health and education programs to our residents. …New buildings take a lot of risk and guarantees and skill, but not as much equity as the way financing works. But equity is needed to buy thousands of existing units. That’s why we raise private equity funds.

“Last year we ended our fifth private equity fund focusing on buying existing affordable housing. And the specialty of affordable housing is that if you are buying in these strong markets like New York, San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, the buildings are always full. They have very stable cash flow, and they make very solid investments, and that’s how we’ve been able to raise the money to make this work, and that’s allowed us to grow as a company and have a greater impact Is. It takes a long, hard time to build new buildings, and it’s easy to buy and retrofit old ones, so we do both. “

This is a very different model than the typical purchase of existing housing and breaking it down to create more density at higher rents.

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“Our mission is to preserve affordability, so we buy buildings, and we’ve been buying them for decades to be affordable, so there’s no displacement [of people].

“We figured out how to finance and improve these buildings, so we really understand subsidy programs and tax-exempt programs, etcetera, to make them economically viable in the long run and preserve their affordability. can go.”

University of BC urban design professor, Patrick Condon, who is from Massachusetts, discusses the American approach to affordable housing in his recent book, sick city.

“The United States does a somewhat better job of providing affordable housing,” he says. “Most affordable housing in the United States these days is provided through tax subsidies to corporations that are willing to do affordable housing.”

“But having said all this, the degree of public support for affordable housing in the United States is only slightly less pathetic than in Canada. The US fell victim to the same ‘Reagan/Thatcher revolution’ that forced governments around the world to be poor or laborious. far removed from feeling the responsibility of supplying housing to the class.

“It’s the same problem we have here. With state and federal governments dropping the affordable-housing file, it’s largely localities left to deal with it. Here we use things like [community amenity contribution]. There they use things like inclusive-regional requirements. “

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