Breaking Ground

Will Eckstein, Senior Vice President, Harmony Housing Affordable Development

8 min read

For much of the past 14 years, Will Eckstein has led the team responsible for securing new affordable housing development opportunities at Greystone Affordable Development (GAD), the affordable housing development arm of Greystone, one of the nation’s top multifamily lenders.

At the end of 2023, Raleigh, NC-based Harmony Housing Affordable Development Inc. (HHAD), a newly formed, wholly-owned subsidiary of 501(c)(3) Harmony Housing, acquired GAD’s property development, management and advisory businesses.

As part of the deal, Eckstein moved from Greystone to become the new senior vice president at HHAD; and while his day-to-day responsibilities with his team are similar, there is a renewed focus on establishing strategic partnerships within the affordable housing industry.

Eckstein has been involved in numerous affordable development transactions in various capacities that have resulted in the construction and/or preservation of approximately 15,000 units of multifamily affordable housing.

Before his time in real estate development, he worked for a large financial services company in New York City, as well as a boutique finance group in Nashville, TN.

Tax Credit Advisor sat down with Eckstein to learn more about HHAD and his priorities for the balance of 2024. 

Tax Credit Advisor: I’d like to talk about the relationship between HHAD and Harmony Housing. How do these two entities work together to expand access to affordable housing?

Will Eckstein: First, they are separate and distinct entities. HHAD is a new, for-profit subsidiary of Harmony Housing that acquired the development, advisory and management businesses of GAD. Harmony Housing is one of the largest owners of affordable housing across the country (at one time owned some 17,000 units). They’re separate and distinct within their ownership and formation. There was an opportunity to add a development team that had new construction capabilities and experience. And then vice versa, for the GAD team, it was an opportunity to partner and be acquired by one of the largest owners of affordable housing in the country. There are a lot of synergies and opportunities for collaboration and insight that they will provide sitting underneath them within their platform. It was a natural thing that allowed us to work directly with a formidable nonprofit. The hope is that collaborations will become more frequent and easier between the existing portfolios and the opportunities that Harmony Housing sees and pursues along with the additional capabilities that we have from ground-up construction to preservation work.

TCA: Does being a for-profit subsidiary of a nonprofit provide certain advantages that a stand-alone nonprofit developer doesn’t have?

WE: The benefits aren’t necessarily tied to Harmony Housing’s nonprofit status. Rather, it’s more an alignment of missions. We all believe the acquisition will be a catalyst for us to be able to serve more people and the communities they live in.

TCA: What regions of the country is Harmony Housing most active?

WE: Harmony Housing at one time had about 17,000 units of affordable housing under ownership. I think today there are approximately 5,000 units under ownership in the Southeast and Midwest after a portion of the affordable portfolio was sold in 2023 to The Michaels Organization. Growth and impact remain top priorities for our organizations. We’re not limited by geographic borders. It’s more about finding the right opportunities with the right partners to be able to go out there and do the work that we are trying to do

TCA: What types of deals do you find most appealing?

WE: We’re pretty agnostic between new construction and preservation. We’ve got separate and distinct groups within our organization on the development side that focus on both. We want a diversity of deal types because of the current development environment. We’re highly focused on the impact on the communities that we’re serving and look to establish working public-private partnerships within those markets. We’re getting traction and finding success in those communities that have an awareness of affordable housing and are willing to prioritize resources that ultimately help support the development of affordable and workforce housing.

TCA: What new markets are you looking to enter in 2024? What factors help determine these new markets that you want to expand into?

WE: We’re focused on deepening the relationships and opportunities within the markets that we’re already serving. The Midwest and the Southeast is a large swath of the United States. Working across the country, and having outposts from coast to coast, will be something that we look for in our long-term growth plan.

TCA: What noteworthy trends are you seeing in the marketplace that you’d like to share with our readers?

WE: For real estate development, the last two years have been difficult with rising construction costs and interest rates creating headwinds and impacting financial feasibility and the ability to move deals from concept to closing based on changes in the market. I think what we are seeing today is a market that is stabilizing. We’re seeing interest rates come down and construction costs plateau. The guarded optimism that I have for 2024 is all about stabilization, holding things steady and not having things all over the place as we’ve seen over the last several years, and moving forward to achieve deal closings and move deals forward to develop and preserve housing that’s much needed out there.            

TCA: Which of your projects from 2023 had the biggest community impact and why? 

WE: We had a deal that finished construction right at the end of 2023, Eastway Crossings. It was a joint effort in Charlotte, NC with a smaller development shop, Urban Trends. It’s a fantastic project that serves seniors. Of the 132 units that we constructed, 40 of them are reserved for veterans. These veterans are being supported with Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers through the Veterans Affairs Administration. The need for affordable housing is so extreme across the country and Charlotte is not immune to that. The Certificate of Occupancy (CO) was received at the end of November and the property was leased within 30 days. It’s nice to think that 132 seniors who didn’t have a place to call home now do. The common areas and amenities of Eastway Crossings are strategically designed to provide a high-quality living experience. The site is equipped with spaces designated for a variety of resident activities, including a conference room, private one-on-one meeting room, craft room, computer center with a library, large community room with warming kitchen, oversized screened-in seating area, along with ample tenant storage space. Additionally, on-site management staff coordinates activities with local service providers to foster community engagement. Eastway Crossings is located along the LYNX Blue Line and is within walking distance of the recently completed Eastway Recreational Center, as well as the multi-million-dollar Community Resource Center planned by Mecklenburg County. The capital stack was complicated and included financial support from the city, county and the VA. Eastway Crossings is representative of a truly collaborative effort. Many people came together to ensure that the deal could move forward.

TCA: What are your professional goals for 2024?

WE: It’s all about leveraging opportunities under this new platform and deepening the existing relationships and opportunities that we have in the markets that we serve. It will be a year of transition and getting our arms around the new seats that we sit in, and the new opportunities that we have for collaboration with Harmony Housing.

TCA: Congratulations on being elected to the Executive Committee of the National Housing & Rehabilitation Association. What areas would you like to see the association focus on over the next several months?

WE: I think we can all agree the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act is an instrumental piece of legislation that needs to be enacted, but another avenue for development that many of us are exploring is how can we do more with less and how we can assemble and execute deals that don’t rely on Low Income Housing Tax Credits. Sorting through and creating a programmatic approach to develop ‘missing middle’ or workforce housing is essential to the whole housing continuum. There have been efforts to create a Workforce Housing Tax Credit (see Legally Speaking, Tax Credit Advisor February 2024), but I am not sure we’ll see anything accomplished in the current political environment. There will need to be a dangling of a carrot to be able to move things forward in that space and attract private capital. I don’t exactly know what the motivators will end up being, but I am interested in exploring the possibilities.

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.