Meta Housing Corp. has built a reputation as one of California’s most innovative developers of affordable and market-rate apartments.
Several of its seniors housing communities have channeled the power of the arts to create healthy and fulfilling environments for their elderly residents. Meta Housing’s recent NoHo Senior Arts Colony in North Hollywood took this idea to the next level by combining 126 units of seniors housing with a professional on-site theater.
John Huskey, president of Meta Housing, shares how his firm is expanding and why next year may be better for affordable housing.
AHF:Meta Housing has integrated professional theaters, studio space, and other arts-related programs in its communities. What’s your next innovation?
Huskey:The evolution of our arts-related offerings was a result of listening to what our seniors really wanted from their communities. We started with small changes in our projects, designing larger, open spaces in which we could offer opportunities for residents to participate in arts-related activities. The overwhelming success of these offerings then gave rise to a large-scale shift in our company and resulted in our now branded senior arts colonies.
Overall, if you look at what makes us stand out in the marketplace, and why people recognize us as innovators, it’s not only that we build high-quality facilities; it’s that we never stop engaging our residents. Our goal is to not only provide a beautiful place to live, but also to give people a home that encourages them to continue to fulfill themselves and become a part of a community they also helped build.
In future developments, we plan to incorporate more lifelong learning opportunities, allowing our residents to take college courses on-site at our communities. We are currently working to build relationships with local community colleges through which these classes can be provided, offering our residents the opportunity to pursue additional degrees, or simply obtain additional education in areas of interest.
AHF:The arts-related programs are wonderful, but how do you measure their success or the outcomes? What have you found?
Huskey: The success of our arts colonies is demonstrated in the 95-plus percent occupancy rates at these seasoned communities, as well as the lengthy wait lists for upcoming projects.
In addition, we gauge the success of individual classes through EngAGE, our nonprofit partner. EngAGE organizes and oversees all of the arts programming at our communities, and the EngAGE team tracks the impact of each class on our residents in order to measure its success.
The partnership between Meta Housing and EngAGE has been recognized nationally as a “Best Practices Model for Arts and Aging” by the National Education Association. In addition, the results of our arts programming have been used by a number of other organizations.
For example, George Washington University conducted a Creativity and Aging Study a number of years ago and used information gathered by EngAGE regarding the arts programs offered at Meta Housing’s Burbank Senior Artists Colony. The study found that seniors who participate in intensive, participatory arts and lifelong learning programs report improved health, fewer doctor visits and less medication usage.
AHF: What new funding sources or funding structures have you recently used?
Huskey: It’s essential for developers to be extremely creative when it comes to funding projects in today’s market. Diminished resources and broadened demands on affordable housing have resulted in increasingly complex financing structures. The most successful developers in today’s market are those who can secure funding through a variety of sources.
For example, we have recently been successful in securing funding through the state’s Mental Health Services Act, which finances projects in which a certain number of units are set aside for individuals with mental health needs.
In addition, many of Meta Housing’s recent developments were funded in part through transit-oriented development funds. To secure these funds, we are careful to select development sites that are in close proximity to public transportation, giving our residents the added benefit of being able to more easily move around their neighborhoods and cities.
AHF: What moves are you making to better position your company for 2014?
Huskey: Meta Housing has grown dramatically over the past year, expanding our physical office space by 30 percent and adding new executives to our team.
We have completed a number of successful projects throughout California in 2013, and we are hiring new talent now in preparation for even more future growth. Currently, we are seeking project managers to oversee new developments, as well as asset managers to maintain our current portfolio.
In addition to internal growth, we are also expanding our geographical reach by beginning new development projects in Northern California. We currently have five projects in the development and pre-development stages in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we continue to seek additional development opportunities in this region.
Moving forward, we plan to continue our geographical expansion and develop projects in other states.
AHF: Will the affordable housing market be better or worse next year and why?
Huskey: With the economy steadily on the rebound and the need for affordable housing constantly increasing, we are largely optimistic that our industry will continue to improve.
One area in which we anticipate substantial improvement in is the reputation of affordable housing. As affordable housing projects continue to deliver benefits to the cities and communities in which they are built, we anticipate that this sector of the housing market will increasingly gain positive recognition.
We are hopeful that this increase in reputation will open the door to new opportunities to fund much-needed affordable housing projects.
Donna Kimura is deputy editor of Affordable Housing Finance. Follow her on Twitter @DKimura_AHF.