icon Breaking Ground

Mark Schuster, CEO, The Wingate Companies

7 min read

As we reflect back over the past 50 years and recognize some of our most prominent and supportive members in the National Housing & Rehabilitation Association, The Wingate Companies (founding members of NH&RA) needs to be on that list.   

Gerald Schuster (1929-2018) founded Continental Wingate Company (CWC), Newton, MA, in 1965 to build affordable housing. He later diversified into property management, equity syndication, construction and health care. Over the intervening decades, Gerald became a prominent businessman, philanthropist and political fundraiser. When he passed away in 2018, President Bill Clinton spoke at his funeral. 

In 1977, his son Mark joined the company and served as president of two of Wingate’s subsidiaries. In 1990, Mark left to form his own real estate company, Bluestone Capital Partners LLC, where he acquired and rehabilitated multifamily properties across Texas. The company continues to operate today in Austin and Dallas. 

In 2005, Mark acquired CWC and its subsidiaries. Since then, the legacy of success started by Gerald Schuster has continued under Mark’s leadership, as Wingate grows its portfolio across much of New England and in the Southeast region of the country. 

Tax Credit Advisor sat down with Schuster to learn more about his guiding principles, noteworthy projects and his long-time involvement in the National Housing & Rehabilitation Association.  

Tax Credit Advisor: You’ve supported NH&RA from its very beginnings. How have you personally and your company benefited from this partnership?  

Mark Shuster: Thirty years of age (laughing). First was a better understanding of the disposition of Congress regarding affordable housing and federal subsidies. The second was great insights into what others were doing, whether that be new innovations or an extension of those innovations. Lastly, we became part of a known constellation of affordable housing providers and property managers, which resulted in new business opportunities and joint ventures.  

TCA: What’s the current size of your affordable housing portfolio? How many states are you actively developing and managing properties? 

MS: The company manages a portfolio of approximately 20,000 units, of which 15,000 are affordable. Wingate is currently developing and rehabilitating multifamily properties in four states and manages properties in 16 states. Right now, we’re doing a program in the City of Atlanta known as City Lights, which has a build out of 1,500 units of affordable and market-rate housing pursuant to a Master Plan. It is the largest deal of its kind in the Southeast. We’re just finishing Phase 3 of the preservation piece. We’ll be closing on Phases 4 and 5 within the next 12 months and Phases 6 and 7 right after that. In early ’23, we’re going to begin the market-rate component of the Master Plan. We’re working with The Georgia Department of Community Affairs, which is the provider of Low Income Housing Tax Credits. We’re working with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development and with Invest Atlanta on the bond side. Between the city, state, federal governments and The Wingate Companies, there’s really a harmonious, fully synchronized effort to preserve 733 units of affordable housing and to introduce 750 new market-rate apartment homes in the same immediate vicinity. We’re also busy in Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  

TCA: Are there any new housing markets that you’re exploring in 2022? 

MS: Yes, we want to round out our active development portfolio in New England, move out of center city Atlanta into the rest of Georgia and into northern Florida.  

TCA: Has the rise in inflation, especially the increase in gas prices, been a cause for concern among your existing tenants? Is Wingate providing assistance of any kind to help tenants through this challenging period?     

MS: We work very hard with local and state agencies to bring them to our apartment homes to make that connection between them and our residents. We’re doing our level best to help maintain that affordability in the face of inflation.  

TCA: What lessons have you learned over the past two years that have helped you continue growing as a company?  

MS: The most important lesson is analogous to America’s pastime. There’s a pitcher and a catcher. The development group is the pitcher and the management company is the catcher. You can’t be an effective developer without being an effective manager. We move horizontally as a company through the process of development to stabilization and sustainability, so that our development people aren’t working alone and independently of Wingate’s property management team. It’s a cooperative, horizonal process. If the catcher doesn’t know you’re throwing a fastball, you’re going to have a loose ball. Loose balls don’t work in this business. They don’t work in any business, but especially not in one where you provide housing.  

TCA: With that response, you’ve really answered my next question, but is there anything else that distinguishes The Wingate Companies from other developers/property managers?  

MS: We have a consistent eye on the original set of investment objectives, and we’re a high-touch company. Whether it’s our real estate or that of our third-party clients, the levels of communication with our own internal people and with our clients is generally higher than what is typical in the marketplace for management companies. In terms of development, what makes a big difference is that when we go into a community, we work at all levels of that community to affect lifestyle. When in a community, we become a part of the community.  

TCA: As I was reviewing your website, I came across something called Operation P.E.A.C.E. Tell me about it. 

MS: Operation P.E.A.C.E. was something that Wingate founded roughly 35 years ago as an independent nonprofit. Operation P.E.A.C.E. stands for Positive Education Always Creates Elevation. It began at the Village of Bedford Pines housing community in Atlanta as an after-school enrichment project run by local college students. Over the years it has grown into an award-winning, full-service program for both children and adults that promotes academic achievement, computer literacy and social, vocational and technical skills. In 2001, Wingate opened a second chapter of Operation P.E.A.C.E. in Boston that provides youth with homework assistance and other extracurricular opportunities, while also encouraging academic success and cultural awareness. Operation P.E.A.C.E. has been recognized by HUD, civic and educational organizations, along with numerous leaders in business and entertainment, such as basketball legend Magic Johnson. 

TCA: What’s your favorite project from the past year?  

MS: There are two projects I’d like to highlight. One involves the work on our first market-rate transaction that we’re going to do in the City of Atlanta. That will be part of the overall scope of the City Lights campaign of 1,500 units. The other is called North Block, which is going to be a 225-unit affordable housing transaction that’s also part of the same City Lights campaign. Those two transactions in Atlanta represent both sides of what we do as an affordable housing developer and as a market-rate developer and buyer. They’re exciting to do together, because we’re focused not just on one market but on a mixed-use transaction that will benefit the community.  

TCA: As one of the longest running member organizations of NH&RA, what impact has the association and members, like Wingate, had on the affordable housing industry? 

MS: NH&RA has consistently provided real time and future assessments of the affordable housing ecosystem. The organization has provided a significant value-add in imagining legislation and communicating to members of Congress the best courses of action that are practical and forward thinking.  

Darryl Hicks is vice president, communications for the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association and a 24-year veteran of associations managed by Dworbell, Inc., the management company of NH&RA.