Mark Nolan is president of the Non Profit Rental Housing Corporation, the developer of Palace View Apartments.
The Palace View site is in the center of Danbury's central business district, strategically placed between the Danbury Library and the Danbury Police Department on the west side of Main Street. The site had been vacant for approximately three years. Before that it had been used as a family-run furniture store. An additional vacant building to the left of it had been used as a car dealership, among other things.
The site needed a total renovation because its uses were outdated. The previous owners tried to sell it to a couple of larger merchandise stores for retail but there wasn't any interest in that. It's a 2.3-acre site with three means of access: one on Main Street, one on Bank Street, and one on Bouton Street.
We created a one-and-a-half-story commercial space in the front that is currently being used as a medical facility with doctors' offices. We designed it as a retail center with six commercial stores.
We spent a tremendous amount of time evaluating the existing structure there, but we found that trying to adapt it to a new use wasn't going to work, so we needed to knock it down.
We realized that the replacement structures needed to have long-term value. The structures would need to be maintained for years to come. We didn't want to spend a tremendous amount of money maintaining the exterior of the building. We were able to do that by using brick, baked-on enamel, and the dry vet system (cement).
The Need for Affordable Housing
Our firm, Nolan Enterprises Real Estate Investment and Development Company, has been in the city for 25 years as a partnership of four brothers. The family has been involved in the real-estate business since 1955.
To make the development feasible, we needed to be successful in buying the Low Income Housing Tax Credits through the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority. Simultaneously, we went to the mayor and sought his support for the development.
Several players formed a partnership to pull this together. The National Partnership Investment Corporation (NAPICO) in California brought in the syndication dollars and bought the tax credits. NAPICO has been involved in affordable housing throughout the country. We had worked with them in other parts of the country on other housing developments.
They had corporate investors large insurance companies and oil concerns, for example who were interested in placing dollars in quality affordable-housing developments. We partnered with them as our syndicator.
The Non Profit Rental Housing Corporation
In 1989, Danbury Hospital inherited some multifamily property, and for a number of years my family ran it. The Non Profit Rental Housing Corporation took it over in 1995. We created this entity to make sure that affordable housing is available in the greater Danbury area.
The Non Profit Rental Housing Corporation put together a very comprehensive application to the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority. We knew that the competition was going to be strong in Connecticut for the small number of dollars available. Our development was one of just a few state projects to be funded.
The tax-credit program provides the development with resources and eliminates the need to carry large amounts of debt.
We also partnered with the city of Danbury. Community Development Block Grant funds were requested to assist in realigning a side streets so that it would blend more naturally into Main Street.
The city also supported our application for a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 103 loan to build affordable housing. The city pledged its Community Development Block Grant funds to repay the loan over a three- or four-year period.
We also received a $250,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston's Affordable Housing Program. The Bank was instrumental in helping us achieve the $1 million in grants we needed to make the financing work.
The Federal Home Loan Bank System will come to the table and work cooperatively with partnerships created for worthwhile developments. The program doesn't burden applicants with a lot of unnecessary information. The Bank works with the community and has community support.
Finding a Niche
Existing housing was available for very low-income seniors through the housing authority and some other private elderly complexes in our community. However, we felt that there wasn't a product for seniors who were priced out of very low-income developments but still didn't meet the market-rate situation.
So we were able to find a niche that helped meet the needs. We received more than 200 applications when we first announced the opening. That grew to more than 300 when more people were able to see what was there. Today, there's probably a waiting list of 70 to 80 people.
The greatest challenge in developing the project involved timing. We had to educate the various entities from the planning and zoning boards to HUD and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston about our development and who the players were.
When you're doing grant work you have to be patient and appreciate that you're going to have to document everything. Your patience sometimes costs money. Playing in a grant arena requires approvals from others. There's a time factor and it sometimes takes longer than anticipated.
It's not like a conventional market where you can go in and just present a proposal to one entity that says either yes or no. In this particular case, there were several partnerships that we brought together and entities that had to agree. If they didn't agree a lot of our time was for naught. So you really need to know that you have a product that is going to be well received within the community and that makes economic sense, so the financiers have no questions.
Another important participant is the general contractor. You really need to make sure you have a solid number to monitor during the conceptual and planning stages so that your construction costs don't exceed your budget. If it does, it can create an additional hardship on the development, ultimately on the tenants and the final product.
It really takes experience to pull these things off today. We're in an economy that is booming in some areas, hurting in others. In our particular area, construction costs are escalating. You need to to monitor those costs because there's a large demand for the trades.
Partnering with the Member
I think we as a society still have this idea that affordable housing is for people we may not want in our backyards and are not of good character. But there are only a few of those developments that have been mismanaged. In many cases, good quality and design have come out of the planning process to create developments that become good neighbors and serve as stepping stones for many people.
This could be housing for seniors, single people, or young families who are trying to move forward. The affordable housing industry is really helping people earning no income to 120 percent of median income have a place that they can call home without being overburdened with paying high rent.
One of the joys of doing this as a local resident is being able to bring
this to the community. The residents have come back and just told us how
pleased they are to be living there and being close to services and everything