Meet Tom Gioia

2017_Q3_Q&A_accountant_Gioia

Complex. Nuanced. CPA Thomas Gioia uses these words to describe the rules of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program – and to explain why you need an accountant to employ the program successfully.

We spoke with Gioia, a managing partner at Otis/Atwell CPAs in South Portland, Maine, about Housing Tax Credits and his 30-plus years working with the affordable housing industry.

Why would someone need an accountant when dealing with Housing Tax Credits?
The rules and regulations governing the program are complex and nuanced. Having professional guidance during the development process is prudent. In all honesty, it would be practically impossible to do without accounting expertise.

Who are your clients?
We provide services for profit and nonprofit developers of multifamily affordable housing properties, as well as for syndicators (or funders) of multifamily properties, such as NNEHIF.

What are some common pitfalls in the beginning stages of development? 
One frequent mistake is not documenting the early costs expended so that they can be included in the final credit certification. There may be hundreds of thousands of dollars in pre-development expenses prior to the loan closing, such as architect drawings and other soft costs. Once you get the loan closing, then the records are submitted to get reimbursed for the construction loan, but you’ll see a “leakage of benefits” if you don’t have a good accounting system right from the get-go. Development record keeping is critical, so we recommend that developers call an experienced accountant as early in the process as possible.

Another pitfall is to get too deep into a proposal when it’s clear that the town you want to build in is not receptive to the project. Time and time again I’ve seen people spend a lot of money trying to push permitting through before they decide to cut their losses.

For us, the most critical time is when the building is about to open and our client has a giant construction loan outstanding that’s going to be taken out with equity and capital from NNEHIF. This is when we step in to make a cost certification as quickly as we can, so that we can help cut back the interest expense of the loan. Otis/Atwell has been involved in the affordable housing space for years, so all of the agencies and housing authorities know us well; we usually submit the cost certification 3-4 days from the time we get all the records.

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Rental Assistance Demonstration – R.A.D. turns public housing into affordable housing

Half a million dollars doesn’t go far. Not when you have to maintain 458 apartments in aging buildings, some of them more than fifty years old. That’s the situation in Dover, New Hampshire, but the Dover Housing Authority has been working on a solution.

“Housing authorities across the nation are faced with capital needs that are not being met,” said Allan Krans, Dover Housing’s Executive Director. “In order to lessen our dependence on federal capital grants, we turned to RAD.”

The Rental Assistance Demonstration program (RAD) was started by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2012 to allow public housing agencies to leverage private debt and equity to reinvest in their old properties – and to improve and preserve them. RAD is a budget-neutral program, meaning that it doesn’t involve federal funds but rather a loosening of federal regulations to allow for public-private collaborations.

Whittier Falls is the first project in New Hampshire to undergo a RAD conversion. In Dover, two developments stand side by side: Mineral Park, built in 1953, has 124 units and Whittier Park, built in the early 1960s, has 60 units. Krans anticipates that the upgrades – new roofs, siding, windows, kitchens, bathrooms, and energy efficiency measures – will make the residents of Whittier Falls proud to call it home.

Conversion, Transition
Shifting from public funding to bank loans, bonds, Housing Tax Credits, and other financing vehicles common in the private sector doesn’t happen quickly. The process typically takes about two years, said Krans, but for Dover Housing it took a bit longer as they transitioned “from being managers of housing to real estate developers.”

When asked for advice for other housing agencies considering RAD conversion, Krans said: “Communicate early and often with your stakeholders, especially residents and town leaders. Explain clearly what your goals and intentions are, then listen closely to dissect what’s really important to the residents. Their priorities should become your priorities.”

Dover Housing worked “shoulder to shoulder” with HIF Consulting throughout the conversion process. The consultants helped to develop a specialized team, starting with the right legal support, architects, and general contractor. According to Steve Schuster, who manages projects at HIF Consulting, it was important to get the design team together early to determine an approach for the renovation to high-quality looking apartments.

Another important introduction that HIF Consulting made was to Julie Jussif, Director of Secondary Mortgage Market/Financial Analysis at the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority (NHHFA). Krans and Schuster brought the project to NHHFA in 2016. After visiting the property and discussing how the RAD program could be utilized, Jussif says the decision to collaborate on the project was easy.

“Based upon the size of the project, income restrictions, and level of rehab required, our tax-exempt bond program works well for this project,” said Jussif.

NHHFA’s tax-exempt bond program also qualifies the project for 4% Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), which brings cash equity into the deal, helping to reduce the debt burden on the project.

When the Whittier Falls deal closed in 2017 it represented the culmination of many months of cooperation between housing professionals: The Dover Housing Authority, HUD, NHHFA, and the LIHTC program, facilitated by the experts at HIF Consulting.

Creating homes for those who have served

2018_Q3_Article 1 Vet HomesOn a single night in January 2017, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Point-in-Time Count estimated that roughly 40,000 veterans nationwide were experiencing homelessness; 15,000 of those vets were unsheltered or on the street. The same report showed an estimated 131 homeless veterans in Maine, and approximately 124 in New Hampshire.

A coalition of groups in both states have been working to provide homes for veterans. In New Hampshire, the nonprofit agency Harbor Homes recently broke ground on Boulder Point Veterans Housing, a 30-unit apartment complex in the town of Plymouth.

PASSION AND PERSEVERANCE
Harbor Homes is the largest member of Partnership for Successful Living (PSL), an affiliation of six nonprofit organizations that offer programs for New Hampshire’s most vulnerable individuals and families. Harbor Homes is the arm most involved with housing development and veteran services.

According to Vanessa Talasazan, Chief Strategy Officer and Chief of Staff at PSL, the idea for Boulder Point was born more than seven years ago. Cathy Bentwood, executive director of Bridge House and Alex Ray, the owner and founder of The Common Man Family Restaurants, were champions from the beginning.

“When Cathy and Alex witnessed firsthand the lack of housing and services for veterans in their community, they fought for something better,” said Talasazan. “It’s their passion and perseverance that kept this project alive despite all of the challenges along the way.”

Harbor Homes was actually the second developer to attempt to complete Boulder Point. The original plan was for 54 units, but Harbor Homes scaled the project back— to reduce costs and to make each unit a little bigger and include more amenities.

Talasazan and her team worked with many partners to piece together the funding to build the property: N.H. Housing Finance Authority, N.H. Community Loan Fund, N.H. Community Development Finance Authority, HUD, Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston, TD Bank, Enterprise Bank, Meredith Village Savings Bank, plus a host of individual donors and companies. Because the project serves homeless vets, Harbor Homes also qualified for funds from other sources such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and The Home Depot Foundation.

Harbor Homes also partnered with NNEHIF to secure a 4% bond deal to finance some of the development costs. It was the first time that Harbor Homes used the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, but Talasazan says that “NNEHIF was with us every step of the way.”

RURAL WITH AMENITIES
Building permanent affordable housing in rural areas can be tricky because of the lack of access to amenities such as healthcare, job training, and public transportation. Because of nearby Plymouth University, however, there are plenty of amenities and access to them. Boulder Point residents will enjoy 12 acres of beautiful land and the services they need to live successfully in their new homes.

Boulder Point is on track to open in spring 2019. Harbor Homes will work with the White River Junction Veterans Administration to develop service plans and select tenants. Talasazan expects it will fill up quickly.

Like in New Hampshire, one of the challenges of veteran housing in Maine is providing a remote feeling while still being close to services. Cabin in the Woods, a new housing development for vets in Maine, was intentionally built in a rural setting and with an innovative approach: each home is a free-standing cabin to allow residents the space they need to feel comfortable and safe.

June Koegel, former CEO of Volunteers of America Northern New England (VOANNE), was inspired by a similar project developed in Lake City by VOA in Florida in 2008. According to Terry Baldwin, VOANNE’s current Chief of Operations, it’s taken about seven years to bring the project over the finish line.

“We had the vision early on to build permanent housing for all kinds of vets, including women and those with families, but it took a long time to get the funding together” said Baldwin.

The U.S. Veterans Administration helped to fulfill the vision by giving VOANNE 11 wooded acres of land on the grounds of Togus VA Medical Center in Chelsea, Maine.

THE FUNDING PUZZLE
The Cabin in the Woods model of individual homes instead of apartments is effective— and made the project complicated and expensive to execute. A myriad of groups provided funding and donations for the project, including the Maine State Housing Authority, HUD, local and national VAs, and significant grants from The Home Depot Foundation and T.D. Bank Charitable Foundation.

Of the $5.8 million it cost to build Cabin in the Woods, about $3.8 million was financed through the Housing Credit program.

“We have some tax credit experience, but this was our first large tax credit development project,” said Baldwin. “We wouldn’t have been able to finish it without NNEHIF’s advice and support.”

In addition to the Housing Credits component, VOANNE utilized HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs supportive housing) project-based vouchers. Veterans pay 30% income of their rent, and HUD-VASH vouchers take care of the rent subsidy on 16 of the 21 cabins. For the other five cabins, Housing Choice or other housing vouchers are accepted. (Boulder Point in NH has 25 project-based VASH vouchers.)

Since the complex opened in August 2018, all 21 cabins have been filled. Two of the families have five-year-old boys who live right across the road from each other! There’s also a “community cabin” with an office, mailboxes, laundry facility, and gathering space. Cabin in the Woods has fast become a community— of the service men and women who live there and their neighbors who support them.

A conversation with Jan McCormick, NNEHIF’s VP of Asset Management

 

Jan

Jan McCormick laughs when she remembers the pigeons crowding the windowsill outside the tiny office when she walked into NNEHIF in 1999. Since that day, she’s grown the asset management division she started into a team responsible for overseeing the host of properties NNEHIF manages in its equity funds. Though the growth McCormick helped shepherd for these properties has had a profound impact throughout Northern New England, this interview revealed the close ties she maintains with the network of affordable housing partners that help her team perform their duties each day.
1) How does your position as Vice President of Asset Management for NNEHIF differ from your counterparts’ role in conventional real estate?
Conventional developers aim for a return on their investments through annual income and the appreciated value of their properties. Though those sources of revenue certainly play a role in the profitability of our low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) portfolio, they don’t represent the prime inducement for our investors. Instead, we focus on the operation of our properties to deliver expected investment return, especially the federal tax credits that represent the biggest financial benefit for them.
2) Traditional real estate portfolios diversify holdings to mitigate risk. Does that strategy apply to NNEHIF’s holdings? If so, how do your duties change to manage different categories of properties?
Though our projects are diversified by their geography and our development partners, the diversity that’s unique to our business is the types of properties we help to create. These include family-oriented workforce housing, elderly housing, and services-enriched housing for special needs populations. The latter is often the most time-intensive due to the requirements of this particularly vulnerable sector of tenants. But serving their needs may represent the best fulfillment of our affordable housing mission.
3) Enhancing long-term vitality of your assets is largely dependent on the property managers who maintain them. How do you work with them to protect your holdings?
Our property managers are responsible for both the physical care of our properties and the verification of that care through the regular financial reports they issue. They must also fulfill certain duties to maintain compliance with the properties’ LIHTC status, and submit reports on those activities as well. We analyze this information quarterly to monitor operating success and compliance. But we also perform annual site visits to get a real-world read on the people and properties behind the numbers.
4) How else do you work to meet LIHTC compliance requirements?
Compliance duties are led by an asset manager and shared among staff, but we also outsource compliance monitoring and provide a compliance consultant free of charge to our developers and property managers. That service supports the candid relationships we enjoy with these professionals. We’re fortunate to work with colleagues who help us identify and solve problems before they escalate.
5) Does that collaborative spirit extend to your other partners as well?
Absolutely. Effective asset management is proactive in nature, and depends on a dedicated team to keep things running smoothly. We hold our assets for 16 years, which is a long tenure for real estate. Our management is a dynamic process, made especially complex by the tax regulations in our industry. There are also a multitude of players involved. But one of the advantages of being a local LIHTC syndicator is the power of those relationships. These are people we’ve come to know and trust to work with us to get the job done.
6) What’s changed since you first started at NNEHIF?
A lot! Beyond the growth of our assets and the funds that power them, our department’s support of NNEHIF’s advocacy mission has been especially rewarding for me. Our expertise in asset management has granted us incredible insight into the complex requirements of our industry and the needs of the population it serves. Ultimately, we’re working to safeguard not only the value of our holdings, but the lives of the people they house. I can’t think of a better return on our investment than that.

Sustainable Standards

Article 1_Gilford VillageGilford Village Knolls III is the first multi-family Passive House residence in New Hampshire. But if you ask Sal Steven-Hubbard of Lakes Region Community Developers, it won’t be the last. As the real estate development director at LRCD, she is excited about the new senior living apartments being built in the town of Gilford.

“A few years ago, LRCD made the commitment to use green and sustainable practices and policies throughout the organization,” said Steven-Hubbard. “So when NH Housing’s QAP offered additional points for developing affordable housing that meets Passive House standards, we went for it.”

LRCD (formerly Laconia Area Community Land Trust) was successful in getting resources from NH Housing— the hard part was that the project had already been designed without Passive House Principles.

As the name suggests, this is the third phase of an affordable community for elderly residents. The first phase was started by a group in the 1980s, and the second phase was built in the early 2000s. The Gilford Village Knolls Trustees tried repeatedly to build a third phase without success. In 2016, the advocate group turned to LRCD for development expertise. Little did they know that the partnership would produce such sustainable results.

Committed Partners

The Trustees already had designs for the building, so the LRCD worked with Peter Stewart of Stewart Associates Architects to integrate Passive House principles. It wasn’t easy to work with existing designs, but Stewart managed to add features to make as tight a building envelope as possible so that the building can be heated and cooled at a very low cost. A 344-panel solar array on the top of the building adds sustainability to the project overall.

Martini Northern is the construction company bringing the plans to life. Steven-Hubbard notes that Martini Northern, Stewart Associates Architects, and indeed, all of the project partners, made for an effective team.

“Everyone worked very hard on this project and have all remained committed to doing the right thing— it’s been a great process,” she said.

NNEHIF also partnered with LRCD. NNEHIF placed the investment with TD Bank who provided equity for the project.

According to Tom MacDonald, VP of Acquisitions at NNEHIF, Passive House developments can be expensive to construct, however, the longer term advantage is that the anticipated lower operating costs that can help keep the rents affordable.

“Passive House projects help promote our mission, and those of our developers, to build safe, energy-efficient affordable housing for the long-term, and that plays a large role in the attractiveness of the transaction for our investors,” said MacDonald.

Building performance

Steven-Hubbard doesn’t know when the next Passive House project will be, but she’s certain that LRCD will continue to pay close attention to the design principles. She’s especially eager to see how Gilford Village Knolls III performs in the coming years.

Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) will be monitoring the building over the next two years and providing LRCD with data about everything from energy usage and savings to CO2, temperature, and moisture— information that can help LRCD make data-based decisions for future projects.

The elderly housing facility (age-restricted for residents ages 62 and older) features 24 one-bedroom apartments, a community room, a laundry room, and an office for the resident services coordinator.

Perhaps the best thing about Gilford Village Knolls III is its location. Nestled in the center of the small, serene village of Gilford, residents can easily walk downtown to the library, community center, and churches. Phase three is also next to Gilford Village Knolls II, and a walking path connects all three phases of the development.

Passive House standards may make the housing sustainable, but for the residents of Gilford Village Knolls III, a sense of community makes the housing home.

 

Huston Commons: How Housing First is done

 

The basic premise of Housing First is simple. If someone is experiencing chronic homelessness – meaning they are continuously homeless for a year or more, or have had four or more episodes of homelessness in three years – they are provided housing first and then given the support they need to work on other issues they may have.

Before Housing First became an accepted and proven model, people would often receive housing only after they met certain thresholds, such as sobriety, employment, or treatment for mental illness.

According to Greg Payne, Development Officer at Avesta Housing, housing was often used as “a carrot,” an incentive to get people to change behaviors. The “housing ready” model does work for some populations, but when survival is the primary goal, it’s tough to take care of the rest.

“What we’ve learned over time is that homelessness is too traumatic and difficult to expect that people can battle and overcome these other obstacles before getting housing,” said Payne. “Housing First works because the stability of a home makes the other life changes much more possible to achieve.”

Avesta has developed three affordable apartment buildings in Portland, Maine using the Housing First approach: Logan Place in 2005, Florence House in 2010, and Huston Commons in 2017.  The key to success for these communities is to offer the 24-hour support and services that residents need to thrive, whether its treating addiction, opening a bank account, or learning new life skills. At all three properties, there is 24-hour on-site support, provided by Preble Street.

Partners for a common purpose Avesta and Preble Street have had an ongoing partnership for more than twenty years. In the early 2000s, leaders at both organizations were frustrated by the high numbers in Portland’s homeless shelters – and concerned that some of those people kept bouncing from shelter to the emergency room to jail and back again. It was clear that they needed to try something different. Together they decided to open a property specifically targeting those who have the most struggles and are most difficult to house.

When Logan Place opened the doors to its 30 apartments on March 23, 2005, shelter numbers immediately went down 10% (and stayed down).  Mark Swann, Preble Street’s Executive Director, knew the tenants who moved into Logan Place.

“I’d known most of them since 1991 when I started at Preble, and I’ve since watched their lives transform with the sanctity of a home,” he said. “Suddenly instead of encountering Geno on a park bench where he’s intoxicated at ten o’clock in the morning, I was in his apartment talking to him about the Red Sox and playing a game of cribbage.”

Huston Commons is the most recent Housing First project, welcoming 30 more people who were previously experiencing chronic homelessness. Preble Street and Avesta again worked closely together. Avesta found a site to develop the property, following many conversations with Preble Street about what neighborhood would work best. Avesta managed planning and zoning, inviting Preble Street to participate at hearings or other meetings, when necessary. Avesta was also responsible for coordinating the financing (using LIHTC as the funding base) and building of the project itself.

Simultaneously, Preble Street worked on finding funding for their on-site social workers, which is, according to Payne, “the single biggest impediment” to developing properties like Huston Commons, due to a complete lack of an ongoing source for support services.

A third partner has played a critical role: the Portland Housing Authority provides project-based rental assistance for the tenants, who have little to no income.

“If we didn’t have the site-based section 8 vouchers, I don’t think any of this would work,” said Swann. “We’ve been blessed to have such a supportive partner in PHA.”  With all the costs of building and staffing Housing First projects, housing people is still less expensive than allowing those same people to repeatedly cycle through public resources.  Payne puts it succinctly: “It costs more to the public, and to the person.”

Stories to tell

NNEHIF has been around for more than two decades, investing in relationships and helping to build safe, affordable homes. After twenty years and counting, you can believe that we have a lot of good stories to tell. We started this blog to share some of them with you!

Coastal Kids Preschool ground breaking

If you have good story about your experience with NNEHIF, or projects built using Housing Tax Credits, we want to hear about it. Email us at info@nnehif.org.