Habitat's Entrepreneurial Model
Habitat did not become a developer by choice; we did so out of necessity. By 2004,
- Land prices in the area had escalated rapidly (from $10,000-$13,000 per developed lot in 2000 to about $80,000)
- Available single lots tended to be located in isolated rural environments, perpetuating unhealthy patterns of sprawl development
- Affordable housing supply wasn’t keeping pace with demand
- The affordable housing being built was concentrated in pockets of poverty rather than dispersed within healthier, mixed income communities
- The robust housing market was creating opportunities and Habitat wasn’t taking advantage of them.
In response to these factors, Habitat reinvented itself to serve the community as a developer as well a builder of affordable homes. This strategy became reality in 2004 with the purchase of the Sunrise Trailer Court in Charlottesville.
Through successfully developing the Paton Street Community (2006-2010), purchasing the Southwood Mobile Home Park (2007) and beginning construction of Sunrise (2011), we’ve realized multiple benefits from this entrepreneurial approach. Habitat has:
- brought down our own land costs considerably by rezoning parcels to higher densities and uses
- invested the proceeds from lots we created into building affordable homes with our Partner Families
- leveraged our land assets to collateralize loans and tax credit transactions, allowing us to build more homes and purchase still more land
- created healthy revenue streams, allowing us to invest in maintenance at Southwood while establishing a reserve/redevelopment fund
- gained access to new opportunities by catching the attention of funders who are supporting initiatives ranging from sustainability upgrades to services for the elderly
- demonstrated our ability to build attractive, urban scale housing in settings that are appealing to market rate buyers. This success has prompted invitations from other developers to build Habitat homes in their market rate developments.
Because we took these risks and made prudent investments, Habitat’s new approach has gained increasing traction in our local community, where market rate builders are including affordable housing in their new neighborhoods. It also is capturing the attention of affordable homebuilders in other areas. Our development initiatives are demonstrating how to make mixed income communities work – financially, socially and aesthetically.
Going forward, Southwood - 100 acres with 341 trailers in the urban ring - presents an opportunity to begin to solve the local affordable housing crisis. We also see it as an opportunity to share ideas in redevelopment, financing, community building, affordability and green infrastructure with a nation of developers,builders and other Habitat affiliates who are watching us closely.