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  • Heather PresleyCowen

Revolutionizing Community Growth: How Preferred Equity Unlocks High-Potential Housing Markets

In the latest installment of our Empowered Finance series, we delve deep into the world of real estate financing. Our focus is on the transformative impact that strategic equity use can have on communities. Consider Indiana: a state with 92 counties, predominantly rural, each harboring unique market potential. If these counties were to develop housing in line with their specific market capacities, I envision a scenario where Indiana could attract at least 100,000 new residents each year. In this discussion, we'll untangle the complexities surrounding equity financing in housing development. Our spotlight will be on how this critical financing tool can be optimally leveraged in projects like multi-family rentals and mixed-use adaptive reuse, particularly in areas that are prime for rental market expansion..

Understanding Equity in Housing Developments

Developers often rely on equity to finance housing developments, as it forms a critical part of the capital stack - the various layers of financing used in real estate projects. Equity is crucial because it represents the ownership stake in the project. Developers can raise equity in several ways:

  1. Personal Investment: Often, developers contribute their own funds as an initial equity investment. This shows commitment to the project and helps attract other investors.

  2. Investor Equity: Developers can bring in external investors who provide capital in exchange for a share of the project’s profits.

  3. Preferred Equity: A hybrid between debt and equity, where investors are promised a fixed return and are prioritized over common equity in profit distribution. This is less risky for investors and often more appealing.

Equity is vital as it serves as a risk buffer. In case of project underperformance, equity absorbs losses before debt, thus providing reassurance to lenders. It also demonstrates the developer's confidence in the project, making it easier to secure additional financing.

Case Study: Harnessing Preferred Equity in a Small Community Background: A small community of 10,000 people faces a unique housing challenge. Despite its affordability, with a median home sale price under $150,000, there’s a growing need for rental units priced between $1,200 and $2,000, even up to $3,000, to accommodate the preferences of millennials who make up 70% of the market potential. Notably, half of this demographic already resides within the community, while 20% are out-of-state prospects. The Challenge: The town’s current median rent of $800 doesn't align with the emerging market potential identified through the H.O.M.E. Method. Over 100 new rental units per year are needed to meet this demand, but traditional financing models are inadequate due to the high initial costs and the existing lower rental rates. The Solution: Preferred Equity from Local Employers To address this, the town turns to an innovative financing model: leveraging preferred equity from local employers.

  1. Employer Involvement: Major employers in the community invest in the housing project as preferred equity holders. Their investment is motivated by the desire to attract and retain talent, thus directly benefiting from the project’s success.

  2. Structuring the Deal: The preferred equity offers a fixed return, lower than typical market rates, making it an attractive option for developers who need to bridge the funding gap caused by higher construction costs and initially lower rents.

  3. Impact on Development: With preferred equity in place, developers can undertake the construction of new, modern rental units. These units are priced to align with the $1,200 - $3,000 market potential, gradually transitioning the community's rental market to a higher bracket.

  4. Community Transformation: The development leads to a revitalized downtown area, attracting not only local millennials looking to upgrade their living situations but also out-of-state professionals. The town evolves into a net importer of talent, boosting the local economy and enhancing community vibrancy.

  5. Long-Term Benefits: The preferred equity investors, namely the local employers, benefit from an increased talent pool and a thriving community, improving their overall business prospects. The development becomes a model for sustainable, community-focused urban renewal.

This case study exemplifies how preferred equity can be a powerful tool for communities seeking to revitalize and grow. By involving local stakeholders with vested interests in community development, this approach creates a win-win situation, fostering economic growth and enhancing the quality of life for residents.

Tackling the Local Community Impact

The million-dollar question remains: How do we introduce higher rents without disrupting the community fabric? The solution hinges on implementing thoughtful and equitable strategies. These include gradually implementing rent hikes, fostering a housing ecosystem that serves various income levels, and promoting local equity investments. In the context of the community in question, there's a notable balance in housing development — for every two higher-priced rental units introduced, one affordable unit is made available. This approach is particularly effective as half of the prospective tenants for these new, higher-priced rentals are current community residents. This model not only maintains community integrity but also ensures a diverse range of housing options, catering to the existing population's needs while inviting new growth.

Encouraging Local Investment to Diminish Outside Dependency

There’s power in localism. By rallying community members and businesses as investors, we keep the financial benefits circulating within the neighborhood. This approach also lessens our dependence on external funding sources, which can be fiercely competitive and less aligned with local needs.

Call to Action

Our communities stand at the cusp of transformative growth. By embracing and understanding equity financing in housing development, we can unlock doors to sustainable, community-centered development. Let’s engage, educate, and empower our local stakeholders to be a part of this exciting journey.

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