New Developments: The Next Wave of Technology

3 min read

As we reported in last month’s issue, technology is transforming the commercial real estate and affordable housing sectors. It’s an exciting time of innovation; however, expectations for some of the industry giants have certainly been tested after SoftBank’s recent write downs of its investments in the panelization-unicorn Katerra and co-working-unicorn WeWork.

Whether it be modular, panelization or hybrid solutions, I am personally very bullish on off-site construction. Notwithstanding the setbacks at Katerra, the changing demographics and demands of the construction industry clearly call for continued investment in developing factory-built housing platforms.

Factory-built housing is just the beginning. Matt Hoffman, managing partner at HousingTech Ventures, LLC is taking a different approach. His new venture capital firm is investing in businesses set on emerging tech-driven housing affordability solutions. In November, he hosted a forum in Washington, DC with demonstrations of emerging solutions from startup companies. Companies and innovations featured included:

  • CityBldr – unlocking trapped land value through machine learning;
  • Module – creating modular infill that transforms to meet occupants’ changing needs;
  • Urbaneer – designing mobile wall systems and furniture for denser living;
  • Common – developing co-housing to meet new living needs;
  • Arrived – enabling renters to earn equity in a REIT-like entity;
  • New Story – ending homelessness through 3D-printed homes.

I am particularly excited by the vision of CityBldr. Their machine learning platform and algorithm incorporates a sophisticated understanding of building codes and local zoning to identify development sites, including affordable and workforce infill housing, that can be developed as-of-right. Strategies to identify sites with reduced entitlement and regulatory costs, paired with a modular or panelization strategy, could be a meaningful tool to lower costs enough to deliver a ‘small a’ affordable housing solution with low to no subsidy. Exciting stuff!

Earlier this fall, I had the opportunity to speak at ProLink Solutions HFA User Conference in Denver on the role data analytics and data sharing could play in transforming affordable housing development, underwriting, asset management and policy making. I came away from the event excited about ProLink’s latest effort to create a central repository for critical affordable housing data. Big data has transformed just about every industry and it is coming to affordable housing.

Whether we are developers, investors, lenders or policymakers there are numerous benefits that will transform the way we manage our respective businesses. New shared data platforms will finally allow us to ditch the myriad of offline, unmaintained, duplicative and redundant spreadsheets that are clogging our networks. A central repository of highly accurate portfolio information will inform more predictive underwriting and facilitate more opportunistic asset management.

Putting information in the fingertips of people when they need it will enhance collaboration and sharing within companies and between partners.

This month’s issue is focused on New Markets Tax Credits and the various “zone” incentives, which drive economic investment and community development activities to targeted census tracts. It is my hope that the commercial real estate and affordable housing technology companies highlighted in this column will target these neglected communities so that they can benefit from being at the leading edge of the next wave of innovation.

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.