The Rotary Club of Roswell is one of the metro area’s most productive, attended and awarded clubs of its kind. And last week it hosted former Fannie Mae Chairman Egbert Perry as its guest speaker, who took the opportunity to talk directly about helping those in poverty by building developments that cater to every economic class.
Perry was the guest of former Roswell Rotary President Dave Schmidt, a developer who worked with Perry on an affordable housing project in downtown Roswell. The former Fannie Mae chair had an amazing story tell. It was one that started in a family of 11 children growing up in poverty in Antigua and Barbuda, and took him through college, and a career that included serving as president of the third-largest black-owned business in the country, starting his own development company and serving on the board of Fannie Mae immediately after the economic collapse in 2008.
It was clear that Perry is driven, intelligent and has a strong passion for helping those in need. Knowing full well that he was standing in one of the most affluent suburban communities in the metro area, Perry delivered a strong and pointed message regarding poverty in America.
“Poverty is a crime,” he said. “And the sentence is substandard life circumstances.”
His company, Integral, creates, finances, develops and builds master-planned communities that mix uses and incomes. Their projects make sure to include housing and commercial uses for people of all income levels. Integral has communities throughout the country and is currently developing Assembly, a 10 million-square-foot project on the old General Motors assembly plant site in Doraville, just south of I-285 and west of I-85.
With rising home values and a lack of inexpensive land to build on, our lower-income workforce is finding it difficult to afford homes. Perry alluded that developers and planners should follow Integral’s lead and incorporate more, lower-priced housing in their developments.
“This isn’t an affordable housing crisis,” he said. “It’s a community development crisis.”
Perry said he could probably find 500 acres and build 10,000 units and make them affordable. But that land probably wouldn’t be in an area with desirable schools and parks, and it probably wouldn’t have the other support systems that the more affluent areas have.
“Take the person you are planning for, and put yourself, or your daughter, or sister, in the place of them,” he said. “Then maybe you will think differently about how you do that.”
He didn’t go into the economics of how to create a development that includes less-expensive housing. But Integral is able to do that because of a couple of things. First, they control most of the financing and do not have to justify their projects to a bank which might not be willing to take the kind of chances Integral takes.
Second, they do projects on a large-scale with higher density. The scale of the project allows them to include high-end housing whose larger profit margins will help “subsidize” the lower-end housing. The density allows them to put more units in a given area which allows them to create more profitability in each square foot of land.
A typical developer would have trouble buying 5 acres in Roswell, for example, and just building two-story housing that sells for under $250,000. Land is too expensive, and they likely either wouldn’t make a profit, or the margins would be so tight that it wouldn’t be worth the risk. But if a developer could get ahold of 20 acres and get approval for higher densities for certain areas of the property, then they could mix in lower-priced housing.
Perry is a fascinating character, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing him talk. I was fortunate to have been invited to the lunch and as a mortgage banker, was eager to hear him talk about the mechanics of Fannie Mae, which he did at length. While I was on the edge of my seat for that portion of the talk, I do understand that most of you readers are more interested in development. But don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll geek-out about it in a future article.
Geoff Smith is a mortgage banker with Assurance Financial focusing on residential home loans for refinances and home purchases.
*The views and opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of Assurance Financial Group