NAHMA Announces 2018 Vanguard Award Winners

Alexandria, Va., Aug. 28, 2018 ― The National Affordable Housing Management Association (NAHMA) announces the winners of its annual Affordable Housing Vanguard Awards. These awards recognize newly developed or significantly rehabbed affordable multifamily housing communities that showcase high-quality design and resourceful financing.

The excellence exhibited throughout these multifamily developments belies the notion that affordable housing cannot be assets to their communities. Vanguard Award winners deliver powerful proof that affordable housing done well can transform neighborhoods as well as the lives of individual residents.

Winners of the Affordable Housing Vanguard Awards will be recognized at an awards ceremony at the NAHMA Biannual Top Issues in Affordable Housing 2018 Fall Conference in October in Washington, D.C.

The 2018 winners are:

Vanguard Award for New Construction:
Small Property (less than 100 units):
The Branches at Centerville, Camden, N.J.; Management Company: Interstate Realty Management; Owner: The Michaels Organization, Marlton, N.J.

Large Property (more than 100 units):
Villas on the Strand, Galveston, Texas; Management Company: McCormack Baron Management Inc.; Owner: Villas on the Strand LLC, St. Louis, Mo.

Vanguard Award for Major Rehabilitation of an Existing Rental Housing Community:
St. Stephen’s Tower, Lynn, Mass.; Management Company: Beacon Residential Management Limited Partnership; Owner: St. Stephen’s Preservation Limited Partnership, Boston, Mass.

Vanguard Award for Major Rehabilitation of a Nonhousing Structure:
Union Eagle Senior Apartments, Bordentown, N.J.; Management Company: Columbus Property Management, a member of Mission First Housing Group; Owner: Mission First Housing Group, Philadelphia, Penn.

Vanguard Award for Major Rehabilitation of a Historic Structure into Affordable Housing:
Duck Mill, Lawrence, Mass.; Management Company: First Realty Management Corp.; Owner: Lawrence Community Works, Lawrence, Mass.

The Vanguard Awards:

  • Demonstrate that exceptional new affordable housing is available across the country;
  • Demonstrate that the affordable multifamily industry is and must be creative and innovative if such exceptional properties are to be built given the financial and other challenges to development;
  • Highlight results of the private/public partnerships required to develop today’s affordable housing; and
  • Share ideas for unique design and financing mechanisms with industry practitioners to further stimulate creative development in the affordable multifamily industry.

The judges of this year’s Vanguard Awards were distinguished NAHMA members from across the country: George Caruso, SHCM, NAHP-e, CEO, The Cooper Companies, Fort Washington, Md.; Nancy Evans, SHCM, NAHP-e, general manager, CSI Support & Development, Warren, Mich.; Steve Henderson, NAHP-e, chief operating officer, Prospera Housing Community Services, San Antonio, Texas; James McGrath, SHCM, NAHP-e, chairman, PRD Management Inc., Cherry Hill, N.J.; and Gianna Solari Richards, SHCM, NAHP-e, president, Solari Enterprises Inc., Orange, Calif.

A brief summary of the award-winning developments follows.

Branches at Centerville

Vanguard Awards 2018 Vanguard Award for New Construction: Small Property (less than 100 units): The Branches at Centerville, Camden, N.J.; Management Company: Interstate Realty Management; Owner: The Michaels Organization, Marlton, N.J.

The Branches at Centerville is a three-story, 50-unit apartment development in Camden, N.J., that was completed in November 2017. The project was completed swiftly, efficiently and with minimal community resistance.

The Branches represents the first phase of a larger scale Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhood Implementation development intended to jump-start the final development efforts in the Centerville neighborhood of Camden. The Branches at Centerville provides new housing for Camden citizens who have been living in substandard public housing for decades.

Funding sources for this project were limited, so developers had to implement a creative financing plan to take advantage of numerous funding sources, including 4 percent Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), New Jersey state tax credits, Housing Authority of the City of Camden (HACC) capital funds, HACC Replacement Housing Factor Funds, a deferred developer fee, a Federal Home Loan Bank of New York loan, a tax-exempt construction bond issued by New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, which was directly purchased by TD Bank, a taxable bridge loan from TD Bank, a taxable conventional permanent loan from Cinnair Community Capital, and two forms of rental subsidy—12 units are Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) and 38 units are classified as Section 8. The development was completed on time and well within budget.

Three former public housing buildings, known as Branch Village, had to be demolished in order to accommodate the Branches at Centerville, which was built in the same space. As a result, residents who had to be temporarily relocated were concerned that they would not have the ability to return after renovations were complete. By keeping lines of communication open between the development team and the residents, The Michaels Organization was able to ensure that all residents felt heard and that their needs were being met. By engaging with the residents, developers assured them that they would not be forgotten, and in fact, they hoped to provide them with a higher quality of life once the project was completed.

It was the first RAD development in the city of Camden through the transfer of assistance. This sets a precedent for housing development in Camden and will pave the way for many similar projects; however, as with any pioneering project, meticulous planning was required in order to gain the approval of all parties. Furthermore, during construction developers had to address the original central water line that served the entire site. The construction team had to deploy various engineering plans to disrupt this system and then provide utilities to the rest of the community for the duration of the construction period.

The Branches is a contemporary building with striking colors that provide great energy and aesthetics into a formerly blighted community that was built as barrack-style housing in the 1930s. Amenities include approximately 5,000 square feet of community space for resident services, wellness and recreation as well as quiet areas, flex lounges on each floor, new flooring, common veranda spaces on the second and third floors and laundry rooms. The units include Energy Star-certified appliances and fixtures, as well as Juliet balconies. An on-site rain garden helps manage stormwater runoff. The Branches at Centerville also provides Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations for aging renters and residents with physically disabilities.

In conjunction with the local housing authority, the Branches at Centerville management team held regular meetings with the original residents who were interested in relocating to the newly revitalized Branches complex. In addition, the management team also worked with the housing authority to schedule and move the original residents into the new Branches at Centerville. By staying in close and constant communication with the citizens of Camden and original residents, the management team ensured that The Branches at Centerville could gradually assimilate into the surrounding community. An open line of communication put to rest many of the worries including that the residents would be displaced or priced out of the new building, and management worked with those residents every step of the way during the transition.

Branches at Centerville residents continue to have the support of the community and its resident council in order to foster teamwork and communication between residents and management. Additionally, management is working to partner with Rutgers School of Nursing in Camden to provide community outreach and meaningful health care services to the citizens of Camden.

Most of the residents of The Branches at Centerville are previous residents of the former site building. Additionally, many of them are long-standing residents of Camden and are therefore both familiar with the surroundings and have a vested interest in the resurgence of the community. By communicating closely and directly with the resident council during the development process, developers were able to ensure that the new Branches at Centerville would meet the needs and address the concerns of the citizens of Camden.

Villas on the Strand

Vanguard Awards 2018 Vanguard Award for New Construction: Large Property (more than 100 units): Villas on the Strand, Galveston, Texas; Management Company: McCormack Baron Management Inc.; Owner: Villas on the Strand LLC, St. Louis, Mo.

Villas on the Strand is 160 units consisting of a mix of corridor-style and townhouse buildings on Galveston Island, which is a long and narrow piece of land just off the coast of Texas. The first buildings were completed November 2016.

In September of 2008, Hurricane Ike made many of the island’s residential and commercial structures uninhabitable. All 975 public housing units operated by the Galveston Housing Authority prior to Hurricane Ike were vacated and condemned after the hurricane.

Not only did developer McCormack Baron Salazar (MBS) and management company McCormack Baron Management want to bring back families displaced by Ike, they also wanted to create a sustainable mixed income, mixed finance development to deconcentrate the poverty that existed before.

Traditional financing was not available for the development, so a new financial model was created out of partnerships between various local, state and federal agencies. The Galveston Housing Authority (GHA) provided almost $7 million in funds. In addition, with the support of the GHA, the Texas General Land Office and the Texas branch of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), MBS was able to secure $37 million in HUD Community Development Block Grant Program-Disaster Recovery funds. The total cost of the development was about $43 million. Villas was completed within budget, though roughly six months later than expected due to a lack of available laborers and weather delays during construction.

After opposition from an anti-affordable housing group that ultimately led to a court decision in favor of the supporters of public housing, construction finally began in 2014.

MBS had to coordinate among various public and private companies to make upgrades to the utility and street infrastructures. This, and the always-present threat of storm, wind and flood damage on the island, required MBS to get a certification of approval for every material and method used in construction from the Texas Department of Insurance.

The solution to flooding was to elevate the structures, but the buildings still had to meet accessibility requirements. Therefore, more small elevators were installed in the buildings than what is typical in a nonelevated property.

Of the 160 total homes built across 15 buildings, 82 affordable units were blended with the remaining 78 market-rate units. To combat the widespread flooding of this northern part of the island, contractors brought in soil to raise the land elevation. All of the homes in Villas are elevated at least 10 feet off the ground and 17 feet above sea level, with ground level floors only being used for resident parking and stairwell entryways. Storm-rated windows were installed that do not require shutters and storm-rated roofing and doors can withstand even the harshest of weather.

When Hurricane Harvey hit Galveston in August 2017, the streets surrounding Villas flooded, but the water did not reach the foot of the buildings and there was only minimal wind damage to the property. Furthermore, the homes were built in accordance with Enterprise Green Communities standards.

Nearly 20 percent of the original residents returned to the new Villas on the Strand and its sister property, Cedars at Carver Park. When construction of the property was delayed, the management team worked one-on-one with families to help meet their needs until they could move in.

A full-time social worker has an office on the property. For adults living at Villas, the social worker facilitates employment services and training, reviews health plans with them and sponsors activities such as cooking classes and fitness programs. For children, the social worker coordinates academic programs to extend their school year learning through the summer and sponsors activities such as arts and crafts classes and pool parties. All activities sponsored by the management team and on-site social worker are open to all residents. As a result, market rate and lower income residents socialize together without any sense of socio-economic disparities.

Workforce Solutions, a company that helps place workers in temporary jobs to gain experience so that they can eventually be connected to an employer looking to fill a permanent position, sponsors another support program. Some of the residents have been able to work at the property for the management company, with their salaries being paid by Workforce Solutions, as a way to gain experience and on-the-job training in such job tracks as maintenance, housekeeping and office assistance.

Villas on the Strand incorporates a number of welcoming community spaces such as a business center, community room and fitness center inside, and a pool, playground, open green space and picnic areas with grills outside.

St. Stephen’s Tower

Vanguard Awards 2018 Vanguard Award for Major Rehabilitation of an Existing Rental Housing Community: St. Stephen’s Tower, Lynn, Mass.; Management Company: Beacon Residential Management Limited Partnership; Owner: St. Stephen’s Preservation Limited Partnership, Boston, Mass.

St. Stephen’s Tower Apartments is a 10-story elevator building containing 130 apartments that originated as the vision of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Lynn, Mass. The church recognized the community need for affordable elderly housing and partnered with a housing nonprofit who helped realize the vision in 1976 when St. Stephen’s Tower was completed. At the time, amenities included two community rooms with kitchens, laundry, storage stalls, a patio, green space and ninth-floor terrace. The church formed a board that included residents and community members to provide oversight of property operations.

Thirty years later, the building systems were aging and would require replacement. Life safety systems were outdated; the building did not meet accessibility codes; finishes were worn-out; and there were concerns about the building’s brick exterior. It became clear that a rehabilitation would soon be necessary.

Project finances complicated matters. MassHousing, the state housing finance agency, held a Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 236 mortgage on the property due to mature in 2016 and a Rental Assistance Program (RAP) contract subsidizing 52 apartments. Prepayment was permitted only if it did not materially raise rents and the need for low-rent housing was no longer acute. Income could not be adequately increased to provide sufficient debt to rehabilitate the building and preserve affordability. Fearing that options would run out, the church, with the assistance of consultants, solicited proposals from experienced affordable housing developers. The church ultimately partnered with Beacon.

The new partners met with MassHousing to discuss the project and were approved for a program that provided a pool of private activity volume cap to stabilize severely distressed developments. Furthermore, with assistance from the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA), through its Expiring Use Preservation Program, residents could keep their Enhanced Vouchers (EV) or choose to convert to a Project-Based Voucher (PBV). To administer the rental subsidies, CHA entered into an agreement with the Lynn Housing Authority and Neighborhood Development (LHAND).

At closing, the RAP contract was terminated with the prepayment of the 236 mortgage, and the partners—now the new owner—entered into a Section 8 contract with CHA for all 130 apartments at the property.

By the start of the new Section 8 contract term on Jan. 1, 2015, 120 of 130 households had opted to convert their EVs to PBVs. CHA permitted vacant apartments to receive PBVs and EV apartments were back filled with PBVs upon turnover. LHAND is responsible for overseeing new move ins, biannual recertification and interim changes that require reporting.

Under its Moving to Work authority, CHA could base rents on the lesser of 120 percent of Fair Market Rents or a Rent Comparability Study. This represented a significant increase from previous rents, making it possible to leverage the resources required for the rehabilitation.

The scope of the rehab included new windows, roofs, renovated apartment bathrooms and kitchens; reworking all common and management areas; adding a fitness and wellness center; making structural repairs; and extensive site work, including expanding the patio, creating raised garden beds and a new bocce court.

Monthly meetings included Beacon’s development team, property management team and the St. Stephen’s board throughout all stages of the rehabilitation. Regular communication with residents was key to keeping the renovations on schedule. Management provided advance notice of the renovation schedule through phone calls, letters and postings on the lobby kiosk.

To address the daily challenges of renovations in apartments, management set up a hospitality suite that included meals and snacks for residents who were temporarily displaced during the day.

Beacon’s Resident Services Coordinator (RSC) tapped established relationships with the local Aging Services Access Point and the Greater Lynn Senior Services to assist with the homemaking, personal care, meals/nutrition and medication management needs of the St. Stephens residents. These services remained in place following the rehabilitation.

The RSC meets regularly with residents to discuss on-site programs and services, which include arts and crafts classes, a walking club, chair yoga, a fall prevention program, a book club, on-site gardening, bus trips to sightsee and dine out, and group exercise classes.

A dedicated Wellness Office was built as part of the renovation and is staffed by an Element Care Registered Nurse four hours per week. The nurse can provide nutritional, physical and psychological assessments, coordinate health screenings, flu clinics, podiatry clinics, wellness education on managing chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, respiratory conditions, pain management and home safety.

Underutilized basement space was rehabbed to create a space for a variety of uses, including community rooms with kitchens, computer lab and fitness center. The fitness center includes specialized fitness equipment such as elliptical treadmill and recumbent bike for low-impact workouts. Training is offered monthly on how to properly use the equipment. The new computer lab offers individualized and group instruction on topics of interest including using social media and connecting with service providers online. All residents are provided with an e-mail address to connect them with family and friends. The computer lab has three touch-screen computers with large-type keyboards and a printer/scanner.

Following the completion of the major rehabilitation in December 2015, St. Stephens Towers opened its doors to host scheduled events that welcomed the outside community to participate alongside residents.

Union Eagle Senior Apartments

Vanguard Awards 2018 Vanguard Award for Major Rehabilitation of a Nonhousing Structure: Union Eagle Senior Apartments, Bordentown, N.J.; Management Company: Columbus Property Management, a member of Mission First Housing Group; Owner: Mission First Housing Group, Philadelphia, Penn.

Union Eagle Senior Apartments: The brick three-story warehouse on Spring Street had once housed a clothing factory in the city of Bordentown, N.J. The factory operated for nearly a century before it was abandoned in 1980.

Today, the long vacant building, along with a newly constructed three-story addition, has been reborn as Union Eagle Senior Apartments, which provides much-needed affordable senior housing in an area targeted for redevelopment.

Built in 1882, the former Eagle Shirt Company—and later Union Pants Manufacturing Company—building now includes 21 apartments, as well as 27 units in the addition, all for households at or below 60 percent of the area median income (AMI). Five units provide supportive housing for homeless veterans at or below 20 percent of AMI. The remaining units are targeted to seniors age 55 and over.

The original building was incorporated within the Bordentown Historic District in 2014, and was extensively rehabilitated to adhere to its historic components. The project  was completed in August 2016.

Union Eagle is the first New Jersey project for Mission First Housing Group, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit developer. The development is located among single-family homes, small commercial sites, and a public ballpark. As part of the project, the developer provided for expanded parking for the ballpark.

The community and the senior population in Bordentown and the surrounding areas were the key stakeholders affected; therefore, the developer met with community members and elected officials, and reached out to the Corporation for Aging for additional assistance.

To further enhance community relationships, Mission First commissioned an artist to create artwork that commemorated the history of the building and the role it once played in the community. The artwork was installed in the front reception area.

Rainwater is managed by an on-site above-ground infiltration and detention basin, which is flanked by native and adapted plantings. Incorporating the green stormwater management into the green space associated with the property provides natural benefits to residents and visitors as well as a lower carbon footprint.

A high efficiency envelope from a thermal and an air leakage perspective offers the building a longer period of passive survivability, meaning residents will be able to shelter in place for a longer period than if the building was simply built to code. On-site power generation allows for an even longer period in the basic services and safety of the building. The goal of the design provides senior residents with comfortable and safe shelter in place capability during an next extended loss of power and/or natural disaster.

Because of the historic nature of the original building, the developer retained several exterior brickwork details and careful attention was paid to maintain, restore and preserve the components, including low thermal emissivity insulated windows matching the historic documents. Preservation of the masonry facade was completed by repointing 65 percent of the facades using tooling, colors and textures matching existing conditions.

City of Bordentown officials worked closely with Mission First to bring the project to fruition. All parties involved had a shared vision for the site and, when obstacles occurred, city officials worked with Mission First to address them.

The developer expected to have environmental challenges and structural challenges based on the use and age of the factory building. The new construction portion of the building and parking lot were built on land acquired by the city. The site not only had environmental issues in the soil, but also, unexpectedly had been used as an unpermitted dumping ground, including debris from an old swimming pool. Mission First had to arrange for disposal of the soil as well as the urban landfill.

Mission First set aside funding for shoring and resupporting the factory building’s structure but actually had to tap into the construction contingency to address the structural and environmental issues.

Project funding came from the New Jersey Housing Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA), Wells Fargo bank, Burlington County and Affordable Housing Program funds from the Federal Home Loan Banks of Pittsburgh and Atlanta. NJHMFA also awarded the project competitive 9 percent federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, which generated approximately $10.3 million in private equity to fund the bulk of the project.

The construction team was involved in the design development using an approach called Integrated Project Delivery, which integrates major subcontractors, systems, structures and practices into a process that collaboratively harnesses the talents, insights and experiences of all participants to optimize results and maximize efficiency through all phases of design, fabrication and construction. This approach allowed the team to plan construction with the goal of cutting costs, reducing waste and improving productivity on the job site.

The complex is adjacent to a large public park and is situated among other residential housing, close to the downtown retail area. There is easy access to a nearby highway with its large commercial and retail strips. The development is also near the Bordentown stop on the River Line light rail service from Camden to Trenton, which offers connections to other rail service.

Case management services, including referrals to community resources such as employment services, educational and life skills training, and health care linkages, are provided to all residents through a resident services coordinator.

Duck Mill

Vanguard Awards 2018 Vanguard Award for Major Rehabilitation of a Historic Structure into Affordable Housing: Duck Mill, Lawrence, Mass.; Management Company: First Realty Management Corp.; Owner: Lawrence CommunityWorks, Lawrence, Mass.

Photo Credit: Heidi Gumula, DBVW Architects

Duck Mill: Located 30 miles north of Boston on the banks of the Merrimack River, the city of Lawrence, Mass., was once the center of New England’s textile manufacturing industry. Mills provided jobs to thousands of people who came to work and raise families; however, by the 1970s, the industry had dwindled, and good-paying jobs vanished, leaving the city with many vacant mill buildings.

As this transformation unfolded, hundreds of homes were demolished and the city struggled to find a new identity. A group of concerned citizens joined together to address this growing blight and created Lawrence CommunityWorks (LCW). Since then LCW has generated more than $70 million in new neighborhood investment including affordable housing.

In recent years, LCW has converted several properties in Lawrence’s North Commons neighborhood into affordable housing. The organization completed the rehabilitation of a vacant mill at 50 Island Street, converted the property into 60 affordable housing units, and created new commercial space in 2003 as part of a two-part project. The second phase was completed in December 2016, when construction wrapped up at Duck Mill, a mill built in 1903 that is located across from the Island Street property, and families began moving in.

The $29 million rehabilitation project at Duck Mill added 73 residential units of affordable housing. Thirty percent of the apartments are reserved for families that meet extremely low-income guidelines. Duck Mill is large enough to accommodate seven one-bedroom, 37 two-bedroom and 29 three-bedroom apartments.

LCW brought together a variety of private and public local, state and federal entities and methods to finance the project. The greatest challenge to obtaining financing was timing. Shortly after the Duck Mill purchase was completed in 2008, the economy stalled, funding sources dried up and tax credit yields diminished. LCW had already borrowed $1.6 million for the project and it took twice as long to secure all required financing. As a result, the original 2013 target completion date was pushed back three years.

The need for affordable housing in one of the poorest communities in Massachusetts was so dire that there was no opposition to the development plan. Community organizers, housing advocates and civic leaders all shared the vision of converting the former manufacturing center into a new community of housing, retail and commercial space.

After funding was secured and construction began, trace amounts of asbestos were discovered on the property. The developer had planned to construct a parking lot where the asbestos was found. The original construction plan followed a Smart Growth Development strategy that involved the removal of as few materials as possible from the construction site. However, the state Department of Environmental Protection required that the asbestos be removed and disposed of through a certified hazardous waste contractor.

An innovative design feature of the property is the extent to which the original architecture was integrated into the new design. The original features include preserved wood floors, posts and beams, high common area ceilings, and multiple window openings in residences. The building’s detailed exterior facade, ornate brick work and granite-lined entrances were preserved in tribute to its industrial history.

New heating and ventilation systems were installed throughout the building. All seven of the one-bedroom apartments are fully accessible to facilitate independent living for adults with physical disabilities. The units are outfitted with wide entryways, a walk-in shower and height-appropriate fixtures for residents. There is also a fitness center on the property and indoor bicycle storage.

First Realty Management has managed LCW’s residential and commercial property for 11 years and served as a resource throughout the entire development, planning, design and construction processes to rehabilitate the historic structure and convert it into new housing. Throughout the design phase, management navigated federal and state regulations and mandates.

Most residential applicants spoke little or no English and one of the ancillary management challenges was to recruit bilingual staff members with technical expertise without exceeding a limited staffing budget. Additionally, management also had to adhere to income limits, rent limits and the varying and often contradictory rules governing housing restrictions and programs. Use of state Facilities Consolidation Fund and Community Based Housing Program monies expanded the applicant pool to include state Department of Mental Health (DMH) clients. Applicants had to be designated by DMH as being able to live “in an independent and integrated setting and be eligible for additional DMH services based on their chronic and persistent mental illness.”

This additional level of screening, review and approval, called the “Comprehensive Assessment Process,” taxed the limited resources of the property management firm and extended the review process; however, the challenges were overcome with a successful lease up and management’s efforts provided an important opportunity for a population in need to live at Duck Mill.

The property utilizes LCW’s Family Asset Building initiative, which assists families with education, financial planning and more. This approach consolidates a range of services under one roof, brings people together to build a community not just within Duck Mill, but also within the neighborhood. Programs include community planning, leadership training, family health programs, afterschool/tutoring programs, English as a Second Language classes, job training/youth employment project, financial education, foreclosure prevention training and more.

The creation of Duck Mill was a collaborative process, in which hundreds of local residents had active input at each step. Their dreams of what a neighborhood could be culminated in a property that represents the best in affordable, sustainable housing and serves as an essential building block in the revitalization of an entire downtown neighborhood.