Forty years ago affordable housing was often synonymous with slum housing or projects, breeding grounds for extreme poverty, gang violence, and lack of opportunity, and segregated the neighborhood from the city in which it has been built. I believed successful affordable housing must be aesthetically pleasing to the community and professionally managed in a way that holds residents accountable to community norms.
I was recently asked the question, "How did you redefine the entire industry?" Below are my four simple principles that I used over the years in the affordable housing industry.
1. Let the Community Set the Bar
In order to be welcomed into a community, the design and management of affordable housing must compliment the neighborhood in which it is built. I saw affordable housing done badly and seized the opportunity to break the negative mold with a new business model. For communities to support the development of affordable housing, they must believe that the new housing will be superior or congruent with its existing housing stock.
2. Redefine the Industry through Creating a Mission Shared by Your Customers
Redefining an industry is only possible when its customers, in this case, the residents, are invested in its success. Because affordable housing is in short supply, the residents are invested in the reputation of the place they live. By and large, the residents of properties managed by WinnCompanies take pride in their community because they are consistently treated with respect.
3. Create Powerful Advocates
There is no such thing as low-cost housing. Affordable housing is a product of federal, state and local subsidies, and private financial institutions that see it as an investment. Its stakeholders include bankers, investors, and government at all levels. To earn support from these stakeholders, WinnCompanies created a culture whereby the firm has never defaulted on its debt; met or exceeded the expectations of its investment partners; and, consistently delivered award-winning work in the communities it serves. When stakeholders see that you keep your promises while simultaneously doing good for the community, you create powerful advocates for your business.
4. Exceed Customer Expectations
Affordable housing stakeholders include residents, town/city, state and federal government, bankers, and investors. If you want to redefine an industry, start with an approach that includes all the important stakeholders, then work diligently everyday to make these stakeholders your top focus and exceed their expectations. From day one, WinnCompanies promised a passion for excellence and a willingness to be judged by its performance – a commitment it keeps on every deal, whether it involves public, affordable mixed-income, military or market-rate housing. When you are only as good as your last project, it’s just smart business to make sure each project is great.