NAHMA Announces 2019 Vanguard Award Winners

Alexandria, Va., Aug. 22, 2019 ― 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 2019 Fall Conference in October in Washington, D.C.

The 2019 winners are:

Vanguard Award for New Construction:
Small Property (less than 100 units):
Gateway North Apartments, Lynn, Mass.; Management Company: Peabody Properties Inc.; Owner: Hub Holdings LLC, Boston, Mass.

Large Property (more than 100 units):
Union Flats, St. Paul, Minn.; Management Company: Dominium; Owner: Dominium, Plymouth, Minn.

Vanguard Award for Major Rehabilitation of an Existing Rental Housing Community:
Quincy Tower Apartments, Boston, Mass.; Management Company: Beacon Residential Management Limited Partnership; Owner: BC Quincy Tower LLC, Boston, Mass.

Vanguard Award for Major Rehabilitation of a Historic Structure into Affordable Housing:
Millworks Lofts, Minneapolis, Minn.; Management Company: Dominium; Owner: Dominium, Plymouth, Minn.

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: Jeff Baker, NAHP-e, Boston, Mass.; Nancy Evans, SHCM, NAHP-e, general manager, CSI Support & Development, Warren, Mich.; Michael Johnson, SHCM, NAHP-e, executive vice president, Alco Management Inc., Memphis, Tenn.; James McGrath, SHCM, NAHP-e, chairman, PRD Management Inc., Cherry Hill, N.J.; and Gianna Richards, SHCM, NAHP-e, president, Solari Enterprises Inc., Orange, Calif.

A brief summary of the award-winning developments follows.

Gateway North Apartments

Gateway North, 2019 Vanguard Winner

Located in the central downtown district of Lynn, Mass., 30 minutes outside of Boston, the Gateway North Apartments, a 71-unit, mixed-use development, has transformed a formerly vacant site into a community asset. Resulting from a 2008 master plan, and a nine-year planning, permitting and financing effort, the project is the first-ever multifamily property funded by Massachusetts’ Workforce Housing Initiative and fills a market gap with high-quality homes for low- and middle-income households.

The project has been designed and built to meet all accessibility requirements, including the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board regulations. With a facade including shingle and clapboard siding that reflects a classic New England vernacular, The Architectural Team’s design for Gateway North Apartments creates a fresh yet contextual presence in the heart of Lynn’s Central Square neighborhood. Paramount to the design concept, strategic decisions were made using best design practices and programmatic layouts; something that market-rate properties are known for—creatively executed within the parameters of the budget.

Located on a prominent corner site, just blocks from a commuter rail station, the carefully scaled six-story structure offers ground-floor commercial space and responds to its sensitive flood plain location with a landscaped and fully elevated podium form. The existing grade on the site was raised prior to construction of the building. This increases the climate resiliency of the project by keeping it above the base flood elevation established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The first floor, including the retail space, is approximately six feet above Washington Street. Inside, a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units combine bright pops of color with warm, muted tones and high-end finishes for a contemporary, upscale feel. The lobby and common areas feature bold art installations and custom pendant lighting fixtures, while the amenity program includes a large central space with two-sided fireplace and communal kitchen open to both residents and the community at large. A smaller-scaled resident lounge space, a fitness center, a combined café/coffee shop and a landscaped outdoor patio round out the space.

The main goal of Gateway North Apartments was to take a severely underutilized property and convert it into much needed affordable housing. It is an example of city, state, federal and private sector partners coming together to accelerate community development. The Gateway North project implements the vision established in Lynn’s 2008 Washington Street Gateway Plan, a comprehensive plan that seeks to revitalize the Washington Street corridor through new transit-oriented development, including retail and housing. The development is the result of years of collaboration, led by the Lynn Housing and Neighborhood Development. Gateway North has been adapted to the site with energy-efficient buildings and climate resistance.

The result of a collaboration of private and public sector entities, Gateway North was built with substantial state support, including funding from MassHousing and the workforce housing fund, a permanent loan and a bridge loan. Other critical financing came from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, which provided state and federal tax credits that generated equity as well as affordable housing subsidies. Boston Capital was the housing tax credit financing. The city of Lynn committed important resources to the project, including local HOME funds. The AFL-CIO Housing Trust was the investor for MassHousing’s bond financing for the project. This was the first project to use the MassHousing workforce housing fund.

In addition to construction issues, which resulted from constructing Gateway North during two harsh New England winters, Washington Gateway Associates encountered a flood plain issue that necessitated raising the site over seven feet, which then prompted the need for a radon capture and disposal system. Additionally, while doing the site work, the developers encountered unsuitable material, which then had to be removed at an unanticipated expense.

Customer service and resident satisfaction are the No. 1 priority at Gateway North. The Peabody Properties team prides itself in its service to Gateway North residents and knows how important it is to set protocol and make the residents’ experience the best it can be.

Residents of Gateway North have access to the Peabody Properties Resident Service Program, which assists them in remaining in their homes and in compliance with their lease for as long as possible, and provides residents a link to services and resources within the community, enhancing quality of life and providing a positive financial impact on the property operations by helping to address lease compliance issues and helping to reduce turnover for the management team.

Union Flats

Union Flats, 2019 Vanguard Winner

The main goal for the development of Union Flats in St. Paul, Minn., was to provide quality, affordable housing in an underserved area and revitalize the surrounding neighborhood in the process. Union Flats brings 217 new affordable apartment homes to a neighborhood with little to no affordable housing options.

Not only did the area need affordable housing, it also needed a structure to dynamically connect to the transit-oriented nature of the area. Union Flats accomplished this by providing a bike lounge and repair shop along with surplus bicycle storage that is free-of-charge to the residents. The development also improved pedestrian walkways surrounding its property.

The area is going through a revitalization period. To be consistent with the existing mostly industrial neighborhood, the design vision behind Union Flats was to mix old with new. Union Flats contributes to the overall community revitalization through design by combining timeless features and new trends.

Union Flats is a bright and colorful U-shaped building that allows for a great central courtyard on which all the amenity spaces are focused. A grand staircase welcomes residents and guests into the building. Glass on all sides of the common area allows for the residents to view into the space as well as see through to the exterior amenities.

The interior common areas feature a large art installation of paint cans bringing color and dimension to the space. This installation provides the connection to all colors seen throughout the building.

The large lobby opens directly into the clubroom for flexibility in hosting events for residents and guests. The clubroom has an orange metal fireplace dividing the space for multiple groups to utilize. A large kitchen flanked by built-in booths provides a great space for working and socializing.

The clubroom opens onto the interior courtyard allowing access to the pool, grilling stations and fire pits. A sculptural playground provides the backdrop to the entire courtyard. An expansive fitness and yoga room round out the first-floor amenities near the leasing office.

The bike room allows residents to store bikes and equipment, as well as provides workshop space for fixing bikes. Direct access to the outdoors allows residents to head out on a ride in the local neighborhood or to the nearby light rail station.

Union Flats was financed through a combination of tax-exempt and taxable bonds, 4% Low-Income Housing Tax Credits provided by the city of St. Paul, and a Department of Housing and Urban Development-insured first mortgage. The property required extensive environmental remediation before construction; the Met Council, DEED, and Ramsey County provided transit-oriented development and cleanup funding via grants and interest-free loans.

There were many features of the Union Flats business plan that were new and innovative. One of the most complicated components of the project was the timing of prospective tax reform under the new presidency. Union Flats closed in August 2017. Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed in December 2017, the tax credit development markets were thrown into a whirlwind. Not only did the reduction to the corporate tax rate reduce the value of losses an investor could receive from an affordable housing project, but the legislation threatened to repeal Private Activity Bonds altogether. The new tax rates were not yet known and projects already under letter of intent had to either be renegotiated or sacrificed altogether. Union Flats was one of these projects. Dominium and Citi Bank, the credit investor, worked to structure a partnership agreement that worked for both sides.

Prior to redevelopment, the Union Flats site was four acres of highly contaminated land. The scale of this project made the environmental matters more difficult to solve. Building 217 units of affordable housing on a small infill site required the community to have parking and other amenities underground. Therefore, the more subsurface infrastructure that was built, the more contaminated soils needed to be removed. The cost of environmental remediation ended up being much higher than expected.

The management team was able to lease the community unseen via its website in less than a few hours. Management also participated in the quality control stage of the construction process to ensure the building met Dominium’s high standards.

The primary challenge of leasing up Union Flats has been processing the number of tax credit application files at once. Other challenges include coordinating a high number of move-ins in short periods of time, making sure residents become familiar with their new home, and handling the growing pains every newly constructed apartment building has. Quality communication with prospects, residents, vendors and the construction company has been essential to corralling this chaos, as have customer service skills, organization and the support of multiple teams from other Dominium communities.

Union Flats is located near several major roadways, the Minneapolis/St. Paul light rail system, and a variety of restaurants and retail amenities. Moreover, the easy walking access to a rail station provides convenient service to downtown St. Paul, downtown Minneapolis, and the rest of the services located within proximity to the transit corridor. There are several bike paths that connect to a larger network of bicycle transit.

Union Flats caters to workforce housing and promotes an urban lifestyle at an affordable price.

Quincy Tower Apartments

 Quincy Tower, 2019 Vanguard Winner

Quincy Tower Apartments was born of the partnership of Jung Brannen Architects and Stanley Chen, a local developer who sought to provide affordable housing for aging residents of Boston’s Chinatown community. Together, they built the 16-story, 161-unit high-rise community in 1977. The developers envisioned a vibrant, affordable community with specialized services for the elderly. The property includes a staff apartment, spacious lobby, community room and kitchen, courtyard, computer learning center, laundry, greenhouse and office space for management and program staff. Quincy Tower also created space to house senior services and programing staff, including the Greater Boston Chinese Golden Age Center (GAC), a community nonprofit. The property was originally financed with a Section 236 mortgage due to expire in early 2019 and a Rental Assistance Program (RAP) contract on 98 units due to expire mid-2017. After 40 years, the value of the property had increased dramatically and a preservation transaction became imperative to avoid a market conversion. The transaction had to provide sufficient funds to cover the property’s market value and fund a much needed rehabilitation. In January 2017, Beacon Communities structured a transaction utilizing an array of conventional affordable housing resources and generating a unique funding source: Enhanced Voucher income, not normally used to underwrite financing. This required persuading critical lending partners that the risk was manageable and worthwhile.

The financial structure was complex, using MassHousing bridge and construction tax-exempt and taxable debt, converting to risk-share permanent debt upon project completion; state and city of Boston soft debt; seller purchase money debt; 4% federal tax credits; state Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC); deferred developer fee; operating cash flow, and a new type of loan: an Enhanced Voucher loan. A Beacon affiliate acquired Quincy Tower, paid off the Section 236 debt and terminated the RAP contract. Prepayment of the 236 debt made then-current residents eligible for Enhanced Vouchers (EVs) with rents set at market levels. Beacon worked with the Boston and Cambridge housing authorities (BHA and CHA), who agreed that CHA would replace the RAP contract and administer new rental subsidies, including the EVs and Section 8 Project-Based Vouchers (PBVs) on all 161 units using its Moving-to-Work agency status. Rents were set at 120% of fair market rents. As residents with EVs left, new residents would receive PBV assistance. This would ensure the long-term viability of the property and affordability for current and future residents.

The scope of the $12 million renovation included extensive facade repairs; greenhouse repairs; a new roof; basement repairs to prevent water intrusion; a new groundwater recharge system; new storefront/entry systems at common areas; new boilers, hot water heaters and exhaust flue; new elevators; new trash chute; new life safety systems; new intercom and expanded security system; bringing units and common areas into accessibility compliance; new unit kitchens and bathrooms; new finishes and lighting throughout common areas, including hallways and stairwells; new signage and landscaping; and design elements taken from Chinese cultural symbols.

The finish color palate is mostly neutral—creams, whites, sables—with variations in texture rather than color. The floors and some walls are tile. Small marble-topped tables can be sprinkled throughout or configured into a coffee table. “Plyboo” (a bamboo architectural plywood) and Chemetal (a metal laminate) walls are sparingly but strategically used. Tall white ceramic planters are topped with orchids.

There is an interior courtyard with a waterfall fountain, enhanced with stone, trees, plants and bench seating in the Chinese architectural style. Artwork mirrors the themes of nature and serenity.

Residents requested to have gold incorporated into the design, so it was used to add sparkle, primarily in brass light fixtures with small bulbs that twinkle rather than wash with light. The rooftop greenhouse was renovated so that residents may cultivate their plants year-round. Corten planters of Hinoki cypress were placed by the building entry.

The majority of residents are Cantonese speakers and most have literacy challenges. Quincy Tower has three staff members who are fluent in Cantonese, Mandarin and Taishanese dialects. Throughout the rehabilitation, management translated construction plans, updated construction notices, and facilitated communication between contractors and residents. During in-unit renovations, management worked with residents to coordinate packing assistance with the moving company to ensure the residents’ belongings were safely stored. Staff ensured there were activities, refreshments and a comfortable space available for residents if displaced from their home due to construction during the day.

The management staff was also responsible for screening 161 households for LIHTC eligibility. At the same time, CHA screened residents for PBV program eligibility and the Quincy Tower staff assisted with translation services between residents and CHA staff.

The substantial renovations to the common areas at Quincy Tower resulted in greater resident and community engagement, enhancing cultural enrichment activities and programming. The resident service coordinator schedules monthly tea/coffee hours with quarterly activities to engage the community. Guest speakers from local health organizations often give presentations on various wellness topics during the coffee hour. Examples of other collaborative activities include a Chinese New Year celebration, Annual Holiday Dinner and other seasonal cultural enrichment events.

Innovative programs and services through Beacon’s partnership with the GAC and other nonprofits provides programming on-site and creates a culturally sensitive environment. Maintaining optimal resident health is also a focus of elderly programming and services provision.

The major rehabilitation at Quincy Tower was completed in December 2018.

Millworks Lofts

Millworks Lofts, 2019 Vanguard Winner

Few historically significant buildings still stand along the Hiawatha corridor, a once prominent milling and manufacturing area in Minneapolis, Minn. One of these sites is the historic location of Lake Street Sash & Door Company, now repurposed as Millworks Lofts.

The project was inspired by Dominium Vice President and Project Partner Nick Anderson’s college project, which modeled turning the Lake Street Sash & Door Company building into affordable housing units. When the property became available, Dominium looked to Anderson to turn his vision into a reality.

The abandoned block of industrial warehouses didn’t immediately look like a place to call home. The dilapidated condition of the building and surrounding environmental contamination led other entities to consider tearing it down, but Dominium saw its potential and decided to rehabilitate and create affordable workforce housing.

Dominium approaches projects such as Millworks Lofts with the goal of providing desirable housing for residents while preserving the historic nature of the buildings. To attain these goals, Dominium assembled a diverse and experienced project team. This team assisted with various development challenges, including designing the project, addressing the environmental contamination issues at the project site and bringing together debt and equity partners for a highly complex financing structure.

Millworks Lofts attained tax credits from Hennepin County-issued tax exempt bonds, Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development Low-Income Tax Credit allocation, and state of Minnesota Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits.

Millworks Lofts stands with much of its historical integrity in place while still providing beautiful, modern housing. Units, amenity spaces and parking were incorporated while preserving the existing structures. The loft plans were designed to highlight the timber columns and existing window openings. Units are organized along a central spine anchored by an existing elevator shaft, which has been repurposed into a light well and a new vertical connecting staircase on the other end. While the elevator no longer met code, original gates, switches, cables and counterweights remain in place as a design element. The new staircase became a focal point and gathering space.

Common areas were strategically designed to highlight the historical aspects of the building, most notably within the tree-like columns that support the roof of the lumber sheds. The main clubroom occupies the former loading dock where suspended light pendants hang at various heights from the original steel trusses, in imitation of a starry night.

The brick walls, wood ceilings and concrete floors are intact and the building design is intentionally industrial to reflect the working-class roots of the neighborhood.

Apartment amenities include private balconies and patios, in-unit washers and dryers, kitchen bars and islands, stainless steel appliances, quartz countertops, 12- to 14-foot ceilings and large windows. Community amenities include a fitness center and yoga studio, rooftop deck with views of downtown Minneapolis, a community room with a fireplace and a landscaped outdoor seating area.

The property management team at Millworks knows each resident individually and responds promptly to every concern. The management also hosts many events for residents.

One unique aspect of Millworks Lofts is its geothermal heating system. The ground below the parking lot is used as a giant heat store, absorbing heat from the building in the summer and returning it back to the building in the winter. Other features that help Millworks Lofts residents lower their carbon footprints and utility bills include LED lighting, low-flow plumbing features and rooftop energy recovery units. Its heating system and other green features enable Millworks Lofts to save over 40% in annual energy and reduce its carbon footprint by the equivalent of 75 homes’ energy use each year.

The biggest challenge was leasing the property sight unseen. All applicants took a leap of faith and had no opportunity to view the property. Even so, more than half the units were rented the first day and the rest in a matter of a few weeks. By the time Dominium celebrated the grand opening, the property was 100% leased up, and is consistently at capacity for its 78-affordable workforce housing units.

A significant draw for Millworks Lofts is the convenient access to transportation. Residents are only a two-block walk away from a light rail stop, by which they can commute to downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul, the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport and the Mall of America.