New Developments: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Asset Management

4 min read

In 2012, NH&RA began work on one of the most fulfilling projects of my professional career – the Preservation Through Energy Efficiency (PTEE) Initiative. When we first got the initiative rolling, oil prices had inched back up to near all-time highs, in excess of $120 per barrel and rising utility costs threatened the performance of many multifamily investments. Furthermore, due to the complex regulatory and investment structures that govern Low Income Housing Tax Credits and HUD-assisted properties, many affordable housing properties, particularly those in the middle of the compliance periods, often were left with limited options to pursue utility retrofits.

With the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, NH&RA developed the PTEE Initiative, an educational program designed to help empower decision-makers at affordable housing companies to take actions that create portfolio-wide energy and water efficiencies. The curriculum emphasized transactional economics with an emphasis on replicable retrofit strategies. We highlighted low-cost/high-impact tools and methods and provided participants with “real deal” data and actionable strategies necessary to mobilize their organization. The program helped owners identify readily available financing sources and provide them with insight into the pros and cons of different approaches, financing tools and technical resources.

Three years and five regional “road shows” later, the formal program was complete. In the years that followed, I would often talk to members that had attended a “road show” and I would ask how they were putting the knowledge into action. The responses generally tracked two paths. If I was speaking to a developer, they usually described how they were too busy closing the next deal and often never got around to putting the knowledge into action. My conversations with asset managers and portfolio managers were very different. They told me of the thousands of units retrofitted and the hundreds of thousands of dollars saved annually across their respective portfolios. They would then often go on to tell me how they were dealing with other challenges, like underperforming property managers, insurance procurement and partnership exits. Thus, was born NH&RA’s Asset Management Council and our Annual Asset Management Symposium.

In time, I learned that the role of the general partner asset manager usually begins as a sort of “owners-rep” keeping property management accountable. They serve as a second set of eyes on the portfolio’s physical condition, an internal compliance auditor, a creator or validator of annual budgets and the planner of year-15 exits and recapitalization strategies. In many organizations, the asset management team also serves as the bridge between development, construction and property management, validating development pro forma assumptions, documenting partnership agreements and Land Use Restrictive Agreements and facilitating the handoff between departments as properties go from pre-development to construction to lease up to stabilized occupancy.

These are critical functions that mitigate risks and can create significant enterprise value. It may surprise you (as it did me) that as we pursued the formation of the Asset Management Council, we found that many privately held affordable housing development companies did not have a formal asset management department and those that did varied dramatically in terms of size and scope of duties.

In the intervening six years, NH&RA has convened asset management executives annually to discuss trends and issues and help define best practices on how to structure and manage an asset management department. We have undertaken benchmarking initiatives to help identify how organizations structure and staff their departments and explored how technology and software solutions can further enhance value. We have also hosted dialogues with investor organizations on how to facilitate smoother, more equitable year-15 exits and, of course, we continue to explore opportunities that make the affordable housing portfolio more sustainable. Our virtual symposium on June 8 & 9 continues in this tradition with a panel I’m particularly excited about with some PTEE alumni – “Achieving Net Zero Over Time: Low Carbon Asset Management Strategies.”

*Late to the asset management party? Don’t fret. Check out NH&RA’s On-DemandLearning Center at and get up to speed fast with video recordings from our most recent asset management events and our PTEE curriculum available today.

Thom joined National Housing & Rehabilitation Association (NH&RA) in 2004 and currently serves as its as Executive Vice-President and Executive Director. NH&RA is a national trade association and peer-network for affordable housing and tax credit developers and related professionals including: investors, lenders, public agencies and professional advisers. Thom directs the association’s day-to-day operations including legislative and regulatory advocacy, committee activities, conferences and events, publications, financial management and strategic planning. Thom also serves as the Executive Director of the Tennessee Developers Council, a state-wide trade association for affordable housing developers and professionals active in Tennessee. In 2013 he spearheaded the launch of NH&RA's Preservation through Energy Efficiency Project, a major educational initiative supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Thom also serves on the Board of Directors for International Center for Appropriate & Sustainable Technology (iCAST) as well as the Advisory Board for its ResourceSmart program, a turn-key, cost-effective, green rehab provider for multifamily affordable and market-rate housing communities and nonprofit facilities. Thom is a frequent speaker at affordable housing, sustainable development and tax credit industry events and has been published in a variety of industry journals including Tax Credit Advisor, Independent Banker, and the Novogradac Journal of Tax Credit Housing. Thom also serves as the Associate Publisher of Tax Credit Advisor, a monthly magazine for tax credit and affordable housing professionals and is an Executive Vice-President at Dworbell Inc., a boutique association management and communications firm in Washington, DC. Thom was previously employed at a national lobbying firm focusing on financial services and technology issues. Prior to moving to Washington, Thom worked in media relations in the New York State Assembly and as a research assistant for New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen. Thom graduated Magna Cum Laude from Tufts University with a double major in Political Science and History.