Prater and Rowlett Elected to Board of Alabama Women’s Affordable Housing Network

The Bennett Group is pleased to announce that Cindy Prater and Ann Marie Rowlett have both been elected as members of the Alabama Women’s Affordable Housing Network’s founding board.  Ms. Prater serves as the organization’s inaugural President while Ms. Rowlett has been named its National/Chapter Liaison.

AL WAHN is a non-profit organization committed to creating a community that provides networking and professional development opportunities while promoting advancement and leadership of women in affordable housing.  The Bennett Group is a proud supporter of the organization and its goal of creating a state-wide organization that brings together and supports women from all sectors of the affordable housing industry.  To join, or learn more about the organization, please visit https://alabamawahn.org/.

Developer Tips for Success: Fred Bennett

The Alabama Housing Finance Authority has featured The Bennett Group partner & chief financial officer Fred Bennett in the latest edition of its new series, Developer Tips for Success. They write:

Q: How long have you worked in the affordable housing industry?
A: I began working to organize migrant farm workers into self-help housing groups as a VISTA volunteer in the Fort Myers area of Florida in 1967. I knew and worked with migrant families there who lived in shacks with no plumbing, and some even slept under the produce trailers with their kids. That’s when I felt a calling to develop affordable housing, and I’ve been working as an affordable housing developer ever since.

Q: What are the key challenges or barriers to participating in this industry?
A: Ours is a niche industry requiring knowledge of Section 42, HOME, HTF, and other federal programs that change from year to year. One must keep up with this in addition to following good real estate development practices in various locations. The costs are high to bring a project-funding application together and the selection process is highly competitive. Developers need enough capital to compete and to keep their team together between jobs. Meeting ever-increasing environmental regulations is expensive and challenging. Since last year, supply shortages and very rapidly escalating costs for materials have been the greatest challenge.

Q: What tips would you give others who might be interested in a career in affordable housing development?
A: I think the best way to start, perhaps the only way, is as an employee working with an affordable housing developer.

Q: Share any tips to becoming a successful owner and/or developer?
A: There are no “Lone Ranger” developers and The Bennett Group is no exception. Internally, we work as a team. The process is complex and also requires a team of third-party professionals who communicate and work well together. A good developer works a lot like the conductor of an orchestra – he or she identifies talented professionals, inspires them with a common mission, and communicates constantly, trying to draw the best from them. This all has to be done within a budget and a timeframe, and it must be done with a supportive “win-win” attitude toward all involved.

Q: What do you see as the greatest benefit of affordable housing?
A: There’s a gladness we share with residents when they first see their new apartments. Many are astonished to see a quality of housing they thought they never could afford. But the greatest benefit is seeing these new neighbors become real neighbors over time, and becoming a healthy community.

Q: Anything else you’d like to include?
A: For a few years, in addition to my development activity, I worked on the acquisitions team for a syndicator and had the opportunity to meet developers in several states, attend their state housing conferences and learn how the various state agencies operated. Alabama has one of the best state housing finance authorities in the nation, some of the best developers, and one of the best looking and best managed affordable housing portfolios in the country. Our trade group, the Alabama Affordable Housing Association is, I believe, the top group in the country.

Read the full article here.

Development Spotlight: Trinity Lake, Phenix City

The Alabama Housing Finance Authority has featured Trinity Lake in its latest Development Spotlight. They write:

Trinity Lake is a 56-unit affordable housing development for families in Phenix City that became the first AHFA development to close its National Housing Trust Fund loan.

In addition to the $449,160 in HTF funds allocated to Trinity Lake, the development also received $1.6 million in HOME Investment Partnerships Program funds and $859,085 in Housing Credits, both administered by AHFA, to help finance its construction.

AHFA recently spoke with the developer Fred Bennett, managing partner of The Bennett Group, and Brian Hollyhand, president of Hollyhand Companies Inc., to get more information about Trinity Lake.

Q: How were you able to utilize HTF to benefit the Trinity Lake development?
A: (Fred Bennett) As COVID and rapidly increasing costs threatened the financial feasibility of the project, the HTF funds, along with some favorable financing from United Bank, helped immensely.

Q: Who does the development serve?
A: (FB) This is a family-oriented property and features a children’s play/activity room. This hasn’t been utilized during the COVID year, but we’re expecting to host some kids’ activities and after school programs soon.

Q: What, in your mind, is special about the development?
A: (FB) One of the things that makes Trinity Lake special is that it is sited adjacent to Webb’s Pond. We wanted to reflect in the project’s colors a kind of “water/lake/nautical” theme. To me, what is most special about this property is it’s county feel next to the pond; it’s quiet and rural and yet amazingly convenient to shopping, services, and jobs in both Phenix City and Columbus.

Q: What are some ways that you are keeping residents engaged while community group activities are on hold?
A: (Brian Hollyhand) Management stays in communication with residents and provides a monthly newsletter.

Q: How are management and the residents coping with the pandemic?
A: (BH) Adjustments were made in procedures during the initial lease-up phase of the property, but most operations have returned close to normal as the situation has greatly improved the last several months.

See the original article here.

Developer Tips for Success: Ann Marie Rowlett

The Alabama Housing Finance Authority has featured The Bennett Group partner & chief operating officer Ann Marie Rowlett in the first edition of its new series, Developer Tips for Success. They write:

Q: How long have you worked in the affordable housing industry?
A: I began working in affordable housing July 2002.

Q: What inspired you to participate in developing affordable housing?
A: At first, it was just a new job and something I had no experience doing. As time went on, I learned more about the processes, funding sources available for this housing, and the amazing difference that this housing can provide in the lives of the population that need it most. This housing fills a large demand for those families and individuals that make too much money to live in public housing yet cannot afford rents in conventional multifamily housing. Seeing the end product, which is always beautiful, is such a blessing to the community in which it’s located as well as the tenants who reside there. We always invite tenants to speak at our open house functions. Listening to their stories and how much this housing means to them is worth all the effort that it takes to get there.

Q: What tips would you give others who might be interested in a career in affordable housing development?
A: It is a very steep learning curve and is very complicated. But if you can give it 3 years – which is approximately the time it takes to go from locating a site to having tenants move in – then you can do it. Also, creating strong relationships with banks that deal in affordable housing and quality equity investors is a must.

Q: What about tips when it comes to being a successful owner and/or developer?
A: The biggest tip is to make as many contacts as possible. First, having a strong, dependable and responsive management company is imperative. The more professionals that you know and have rapport with, the more successful you will be. This industry takes a village to manage. No one can do it alone. Relationships that developers/owners can establish with knowledgeable, reputable, and trustworthy general contractors, accountants, attorneys, architects, engineers, market analysts, environmental professionals, etc., can make or break a successful housing development.

Q: What do you see as the greatest benefit of affordable housing?
A: Giving people who otherwise wouldn’t have the ability to live in beautiful, affordable housing that is safe, sanitary, and located close to jobs, shopping, medical facilities, schools, and worship facilities.

Q: Anything else you’d like to include?
A: The low-income housing tax credit program started in 1986 and has been the most successful source of affordable housing production in history. I hope that all the developers/owners out there will continue to do all that is necessary to make this program continue to be a success. Additionally, none of this would be at all possible without our state housing finance agencies who work tirelessly to continue making this program available.

Read the full article here.