Profitable & Affordable

Developers of New Urban Communities Share Lessons Learned

“Private Sector Solutions to the Affordability and Social Equity Crisis,” a summit sponsored by the LOCUS National Leadership, was held in Washington, DC last week.

The High Line Park in NYC is a great example of walkable and sustainable urban development.

The High Line Park in NYC is a great example of walkable and sustainable urban development.

 LOCUS, a program within Smart Growth America, is a national network of real estate developers and investors who advocate for sustainable, walkable urban development in America’s metro areas.

Several local officials from across the country were in attendance, including mayors, planning commissioners, and city council members. They clearly were eager to hear from and talk with these private sector developers to learn more about how to promote smart growth developments in their communities. As affordable housing advocates, we too are interested in the conversation since the overwhelming majority of housing that is affordable will be built by the private sector.

Profitable, environmentally sustainable, and equitable

Given the exponential growth in popularity of mixed-use, mixed-income, compact, walkable communities, it’s helpful to hear what these private sector developers said about the attributes that bring value to their bottom line. Here are some of the highlights from the conference:

LOCUS members adhere to a triple bottom line when evaluating a project: the development needs to be profitable, environmentally sustainable, and equitable.

  • Carol Naughton, Senior VP of Purpose Built Communities, spoke about the value that quality schools bring to the community. Affordable preschool and quality K-12 education will attract households with a mix of incomes and sustain neighborhood revitalization.
Quality schools attract families and businesses to a community.

Quality schools attract families and businesses to a community.

  • Chryse Gibson, VP with Oaktree, discussed her company’s philosophy of considering people, profit, planet and partnership in their development process, saying that if developers can stabilize the largest cost of living (housing) for people, they will have accomplished a great deal.
  • Illana Pruess, founder of Recast City, shared her insights about the role that job creation and small businesses can play in revitalizing communities – in particular a “new neighborhood approach” of small scale manufacturing such as artisanal foods, wood workers, micro breweries, hardware prototyping, and 3-D print technology. These small businesses provide key assets to real estate and neighborhoods by creating jobs, and drawing people into the community. Additionally, these jobs usually provide higher wages than low paying service or retail jobs.

Other sessions at the conference looked at the role of transit oriented development and the public investment needed to attract private capital, and the use of publicly owned land for affordable housing. Local leaders were encouraged to maximize the value of the most precious asset at their disposal – land.

Advice for Northern Virginia

All of this is sound advice for Northern Virginia’s localities as they plan to redevelop or revitalize their aging inner suburban communities which have thousands of units of market affordable housing – think Seven Corners, Annandale, the Lee Highway corridor in Arlington and Route 1 in Alexandria to name a few.

Communities should ask the question, “What would this site need to look like or need to have for me to want to live there?” And developers and planners need to hear our answers as we continue to articulate our vision for the future.