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 2021 Fall Conference in October in Washington, D.C.

The 2021 winners are:

Vanguard Award for New Construction
Small Property (less than 100 units)
Harmon Apartments, Dorchester, Mass; Management Company: Peabody Properties Inc.; Owner: The Boston Home, Boston, Mass.

Large Property (more than 100 units)
Boston Heights Apartment Homes, Benbrook, Texas; Management Company: Asset Living; Owner: BB Villas at Boston Heights Housing LP, Dallas, Texas.

Vanguard Award for Major Rehabilitation of an Existing Rental Housing Community
LaBelle Towers Co-op, Highland Park, Mich.; Management Company: CSI Support & Development Services Inc.; Owner: LaBelle Towers Limited Dividend Housing Association LP, Warren, Mich.

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: Noel Gill, NAHP-e, SHCM, CPO, executive vice president of Northwest Real Estate Capital Corp.; Michael Johnson, SHCM, NAHP-e, executive vice president of Alco Management Inc.; Jim McGrath, SHCM, NAHP-e, chairman of the board of PRD Management Inc.; and Gianna Solari Richards, SHCM, NAHP-e, president of Solari Enterprises Inc.

A brief summary of the award-winning developments follows.

Harmon Apartments

Harmon Apartments was inspired by Cordelia Harmon, who founded The Boston Home (TBH) in 1881, a one-of-a-kind community serving adults with advanced multiple sclerosis and similar progressive neurological diseases. In 2013, knowing that a need existed for supportive affordable housing for people with progressive diseases and mobility impairments, TBH initiated the effort to build Harmon Apartments, an affordable and fully accessible apartment building for adults with disabilities in Dorchester, Mass. Teaming up with experienced development partner, Affirmative Investments, TBH found support from its many stakeholders, including disability advocates, neighbors and neighborhood associations, and most importantly, civic leaders at the city of Boston and the commonwealth of Massachusetts. In May 2019, Harmon Apartments opened its doors with 36 apartments. Located on The Boston Home campus, the innovative community expands the programs developed by The Boston Home, supplying integrated technology and supportive services to residents.

Providing a range of on-site programs and services, including services sponsored by The Greater New England Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Harmon Apartments boasts open-concept living with accessible design features. The apartments exceed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards and include contemporary kitchens with Energy Star appliances, modern fixtures, spacious floor plans, and beautiful finishes.

The $18.13 million development utilized state and federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit equity. The project was completed on time and within budget.

Beginning in January 2015, neighborhood meetings were held at regular intervals throughout the spring and early summer. There was some initial opposition to the project, especially from those immediately abutting the property. However, there was also significant support for the project among neighbors, disability advocates, and civic leaders.

The project went through a series of exercises to respond to the neighbor’s concerns. With help from local politicians, several changes were made to the placement of the project on the site, the number of units, and the unit mix.

Most neighbors were appreciative of the opportunity for direct involvement and the changes that were incorporated. In the end, the Boston redevelopment authority voted its unanimous approval for the project.

All 36 apartment homes at Harmon Apartments include accessible features and integrated technology designed to support persons with significant mobility and functional impairments, including those that are progressively degenerative.

Peabody Properties professionally manages Harmon Apartments. One of the challenges that Harmon Apartments and the management team faced was finding qualified residents. The team advertised in local newspapers and partnered with local agencies. Outreach included more than 13 disability organizations across Massachusetts.

With 100% of Harmon Apartments residents requiring the community’s accessible features and 90% needing supportive services, Harmon Apartments presents its own set of specific management challenges to overcome. During the planning and construction process, special attention was given to acoustics within units, between units, and in public spaces through impact-resistant flooring, noise transmission reduction, and highly absorbent acoustic surfaces. Each floor level was painted in different colors to orient and minimize confusion for residents with vision deficiency. Windowsills were appropriately located to allow residents in wheelchairs a visual connection to the outside. Technology was incorporated in the design to allow residents to control their own environments such as doors, window shades, heating, and cooling operations – giving them complete autonomy in their homes for as long as possible.

Harmon Apartments provides a wide range of on-site programs along with a resident services coordinator to assist with arrangements for health care as well as home management services and care. A specialized menu of supportive services helps each person enjoy independence while reducing social isolation, including a peer support group spearheaded by The Greater New England Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Residents have access to assistance with Personal Care Attendant (PCA) recruitment and help coordinating access to community services such as meal delivery and benefits, including Social Security, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and utility discounts.

Additionally, residents have access to programs at The Boston Home, including wheelchair seating and positioning services, an outpatient rehabilitation program staffed by neurological specialists, B. Fit! socialization and wellness day programs that promote empowerment and independence, and wheelchair customization services such as mounting of communication devices in assistive technologies. There are also group expressive arts therapy sessions, weekly seated meditative tai chi, financial literacy counseling, cooking demonstrations, social events, and presentations by community groups.

For many residents, supportive housing is appealing not only because of the activities they can enjoy inside their apartment but also because of those they can enjoy outside of it. Harmon Apartments residents benefit from its prime location, a thriving neighborhood with a mix of historical charm and convenience.

Boston Heights Apartment Homes

Boston Heights

As with all of developer OM Housing’s multifamily housing projects, the vision for Boston Heights was that of satisfying a community need for affordable apartment homes that surpasses industry standards for comfort, aesthetics, resource management, and top-notch amenities.

Boston Heights is located on a 10.5-acre site that faced significant challenges before its inception. The site was previously home to myriad undesirable activities such as prostitution, drug use, and unsheltered encampments erected by homeless individuals. Though it may seem counterintuitive, these circumstances further crystallized the overriding goal in creating Boston Heights: pushing back against—and hopefully negating—the “Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY)” concept by establishing apartments that improve and enrich their surrounding community.

Safety and security were top priorities. Boston Heights’ site design was shared with the local police department to clean up design-based security problems. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design concepts, along with perimeter fencing with controlled access gates and 30-plus HD cameras, were provided campuswide to ensure resident safety.

This project boasts a plethora of amenities and residential services, including an extra-large clubhouse with a community center, kitchen, and audio-visual equipment for social events, along with separate spaces for business, fitness, and children’s activities. There is also a pool with a water feature, barbecue grills, playscapes, and lush landscaping. The 144 apartments include energy-efficient appliances, low emissivity windows, spacious kitchens with deep counters, constant fresh airflow from energy recovery ventilation systems, and healthy construction materials.

The property is LEED GOLD certified with green features including Energy Star appliances, low-flow water-saving fixtures, improved air quality using low-emitting VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint, carpets, adhesives, and sealants; native-plant landscaping; and high-efficiency irrigation.

The project is financed with 9% housing credits from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, along with an FHA 221(d)4 debt. PNC provided a bridge loan and is the syndicator, while JP Morgan is purchasing the credits. To score points with TDHCA, OM Housing also obtained a small loan from Tarrant County.

The project was completed on time. Despite unforeseen expenses in addressing topographical barriers, the project used only a small portion of its contingency budget.

The project design was upgraded to satisfy both city requirements and the concerns of the single-family homes adjacent to the site. Ultimately, the design team conceptualized and delivered a need-based community that provides housing to various income levels while building a sense of community and pride for its residents and the broader neighborhood.

There are single-family homes to the south and west of Boston Heights and a commercial strip center to the north. As a solution, the OM Housing team chose smaller buildings to better overcome the topographical challenges, which also mitigated the aesthetic concerns voiced by the neighbors. A trendy hybrid urban-style design with smaller buildings and flat roofing where possible was chosen.

The buildings were placed away from the southern boundary by adding parking and internal streets and restricting the southern building heights to two stories. An 8-foot masonry fence was also added to protect the privacy of nearby residents’ backyards.

Once neighborhood concerns were mitigated, the focus was on the geographical issues, including severe topography, lack of a storm drain system, and the presence of excessive limestone below the surface. When construction began, the limestone had to be cut using specialized machines. Two large detention ponds were built to alleviate the flow of stormwater onto neighboring properties.

The Asset Living management team was involved from the onset in the design of this project. Their contributions were instrumental in every aspect, including unit size, amenities in the clubhouse and homes, material selection, equipment, etc. They spearheaded neighborhood meetings by providing invaluable, factual data to counter the myths and misgivings held by the neighbors.

The on-site management oversees lease-up, outreach marketing, contact with local businesses, and gathering resident documentation for site audits. They seamlessly adjust to resident-based property changes, such as switching to online rent payments and work orders.

The biggest challenges faced by management are making sure property personnel can get essential services to all residents who need them and creating community connections to critical services when the needs arise. Given the demographic of the residents, which often are single parents with children, the challenge is to ensure necessary resources are available to these residents.

Some examples of the assistance programs or services for working parents may include parenting skills classes, educational and/or job training opportunities, child care, life skills training, after-school program, and meal programs.

Boston Heights also offers numerous residential amenities, including the multifaceted business center and community center, beautifully maintained outdoor spaces, and bike racks to encourage multimodal transportation.

In partnership with Abundance of Life, Boston Heights provides after-school tutoring and social programming, family-focused resources and supports, community integration activities, and year-round social events.

First aid courses, swimming lessons, financial counseling, tax preparation, after-school meals, and holiday celebrations are just a few of the activities available to the residents.

LaBelle Towers Co-op

 LaBelle Towers Co-op

CSI Support & Development Services Inc. first developed LaBelle Towers Co-op in 1973, using the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Section 236 program. The property has since been cooperatively managed by the residents with professional support from CSI. LaBelle Towers is in Highland Park, Mich., a city surrounded by the city of Detroit. This service-rich neighborhood is excellent for seniors: full-service shopping, including grocery and pharmacy, and public transportation are within walking distance.

Starting in 2016, CSI’s development and management team began working toward the collective goals of completing a large-scale renovation project to meet the property’s long-term needs and to ensure the project is physically and financially viable for the foreseeable future. Additionally, CSI’s management team met with the resident/members of LaBelle to hear their concerns for their home and their suggestions for reinvestment. In developing the project scope, careful attention was paid to capital projects that enhance residents’ comfort and safety and reduce future maintenance and energy costs.

To achieve this goal, the rehab included redesigning the HVAC system to provide individual unit controls; installing new unit kitchens and baths; improving building accessibility and safety; and reconfiguring all interior and exterior common area spaces to allow for effective social service delivery and to create more and better-functioning building spaces.

The secondary goal of LaBelle’s redevelopment was to complement the existing neighborhood and the significant reinvestment in the adjacent community. To accomplish this, LaBelle’s site plan was redesigned to orient traffic flow to the north side of the building where redevelopment activity had already occurred in the community. A new entrance to the residents’ parking lot was created. Instead of driving through a city alley, the building’s front entrance drive was redesigned to allow for traffic flow entirely on the property. Significant landscaping updates were completed, and common area balconies were enclosed to allow year-round usage.

HUD processed a Mark-Up-to-Market of the Section 8 contract, which provided an increase to post-rehab market rents. As a result, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority provided a construction loan, first mortgage, 4% Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), bonds, and $3.4 million in soft financing.

The project was completed on time. However, due to a delay in the construction start caused by the 2019 government shutdown, construction labor costs increased to accommodate a compressed construction schedule. A small change order was processed and paid for by increased LIHTCs and developer’s equity.

There were three major development challenges related to this project: environmental, relocation, and a compressed construction schedule.

Environmental: When completing the Phase I environmental review, two problems needed remediation: 1) a small underground storage tank containing an unknown liquid was discovered near LaBelle’s entrance, and 2) lead was discovered in the soil. CSI quickly compiled a sophisticated environmental team to create and implement a remediation plan with Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality. The result was timely full environmental approval.

Relocation: Although no one was permanently relocated from the property, the temporary resident relocation during construction was very complicated. All 210 units received new kitchens and baths, and 11 of those units were gutted to create fully accessible units. A significant amount of coordination and communication was required between contractors, management staff, and residents. As units received their new cabinetry, a hospitality station was provided in the community room, where residents could stay for the day. Meals were provided, and LaBelle’s volunteer Relocation Committee ensured that the residents were comfortable while their unit was renovated. Residents whose units were gutted and converted to an accessible unit were temporarily moved off-site. Co-op volunteers were instrumental in helping residents temporarily relocate; they would check on residents every day and drive them to LaBelle to conduct their daily business.

Compressed Construction Schedule: One major obstacle to closing the project’s financing and starting construction was the 35-day government shutdown that began on Dec. 22, 2018, which delayed HUD’s final approval of the Housing Assistance Payments Contract. The result was that the project was not able to close until March 2019. Due to the scheduled tax credit delivery of Dec. 31, 2019, CSI was required to complete construction in less than 10 months. Therefore, CSI increased construction manpower and daily construction hours, requiring immense effort and cooperation from the residents/members.

On floors two-10, common area balconies were enclosed to provide larger community floor lounges. On the first floor, a library and computer room were added as well as a small meeting room for the building’s volunteer leadership. Additionally, a fenced outdoor patio was constructed outside the newly renovated community room, allowing residents to move safely between these two areas. The building’s volunteer leadership uses these added spaces to promote LaBelle’s cooperative management system.

The project’s design also enhanced resident safety and security and improved access to social services ensuring residents can safely age in place. First, two service coordinator offices were constructed in convenient first-floor locations to house LaBelle’s service coordinators.

Second, an emergency-call system connecting to central third-party monitoring was added. Lastly, transportation was improved by purchasing a new project van for the building and replanning the front entrance to allow for safer resident drop-off.

Another innovative project feature was the intense focus on redesigning the building’s HVAC system to improve energy efficiency and resident comfort. This new system was instrumental in reducing energy costs by 16% in the first year of operations.

During construction, residents chose color schemes, flooring material, cabinet design, and common area décor and furnishings. The building’s membership formed renovation committees to liaise between membership and the construction team, ensuring that all residents were notified about upcoming construction activities.