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August 26, 2021
The Puget Sound region is deep into a decades-long housing crunch. The simple fact is that there aren't enough homes for everyone who needs one. In King County, major employers have drawn thousands of people for great jobs, but housing hasn't kept up. The real estate and construction industry has a vital role to play to help solve this challenge, especially for working families.
The DevCo family of companies is the largest provider of affordable housing in Washington state. We are a vertically integrated private equity firm focused on developing, building and managing affordable housing.
We have an enormous responsibility to help meet the need for affordable housing as our region grows. Each of the organizations in our family of companies are experts at what they do, but we realized we must evolve how we operate as integrated companies to strengthen and speed up our ability to develop, build and manage more affordable communities. As our family of companies embarked on this restructuring project, I learned important lessons that developers, construction companies and property managers can adopt into their own businesses.
1. Enterprise services help tie very different divisions together
Three HR functions, fragmented IT and siloed organizations are not conducive to growth. We created an entirely new enterprise services division and consolidated our talented staff into a single organization under a new COO. Growth means you must be committed to thinking outside of the box and being amenable to change to ensure you have the right infrastructure.
2. Nurture your talent and promote from within
Change is never easy and is stressful for employees seeing the earth move around them. Prioritize retention by promoting trusted employees into leadership roles. As part of our evolving structure, we are bringing the next generation of leadership forward from within our ranks to fill new and existing roles. We estimate that we will promote upwards of 10 employees to new leadership roles across the DevCo family of companies. It's also important to maintain transparency by staying in regular contact with your teams via town halls, surveys and meaningful updates that tie changes back to your mission.
3. Prioritize community partnerships
Housing doesn't get built without the community. Even as major changes occur inside your business, never lose sight of external relationships. Local government, business associations and community groups are vital stakeholders to the housing industry. We saw during the height of the pandemic how important our communities are to keeping people secure and housed. Build on those new and strengthened relationships to help support the next generation of housing.
4. Lean-in to important policy discussions
Housing is at the forefront of local, state and national policy debates. The housing industry must be at the table to provide our expertise and perspective to help address our biggest challenges around housing creation and affordability. We want our policymakers to understand that meeting people's housing needs is an ongoing partnership with government, communities, and the development, construction and management industries that does not end with a single phase of the process. Don't shy away from engagement with your local elected officials. Bring them in, help them understand the nuances of your business and the industry, and find a common ground.
5. Create a double bottom line
Housing is essential to life, and nobody knows that more than the people who wake up every day with the passion to create more of it. As an industry, we need to make a reasonable profit while keeping our sights squarely on the social benefits that housing brings. Consider elevating community outreach roles and CSR professionals in your business. Instill a culture of passion and caring for the residents you serve and the communities you support.
The affordable housing industry is complex and often difficult to navigate, but it's also incredibly rewarding. We've got to be nimble, passionate and well-organized to meet one of the greatest challenges of our time — creating a home for everyone who needs one.
Jack Hunden is the president of DevCo LLC. DevCo and its affiliates are the largest affordable housing provider in Washington state. They own and manage approximately 8,000 units across the western U.S.