Consistency is the name of the game for the top firms in the AHF Top 50 Developers of 2014.
The Michaels Organization, The NRP Group, McCormack Baron Salazar, The Woda Group, and The Pacific Cos., all of which saw strong construction activity in 2013, continued to post big production numbers last year to remain in the top 10.
In fact, construction activity increased for the AHF 50 developers overall last year. The group started 240 new developments with more than 19,000 affordable housing units in 2014, an 18% increase in units from the prior year's group. (For the past two years, there have been 56 companies on the list because of several ties.)
Marlton, N.J.–based Michaels, No. 6 on last year's list, rises to the top spot this year, after starting construction on nearly 1,300 affordable housing units in seven developments in 2014.
The new developments were a good blend of housing—three communities for seniors and four for families, says Ava Goldman, president of Michaels Development Co.
Goldman credits the firm's strong team of developers and construction managers. "From our home base in New Jersey to the South, Midwest, West, and even the tropics [the U.S. Virgin Islands], we have a highly motivated and capable staff," she says.
To be considered for the AHF 50, 107 firms completed surveys, detailing their recent activities. The list reveals how many units are under construction by leading national and regional developers. The rankings are based on the number of new affordable housing units—those serving residents earning no more than 60% of the area median income—started in 2014.
Overall, the group is an optimistic bunch. A majority (57.8%) of the surveyed companies believe housing finance conditions will remain the same this year. About 25.5% say conditions will be better, while only 16.7% think conditions will be worse by year's end.
Jeff Woda, president of The Woda Group, No. 6 on this year's developers list, says the outlook for the affordable housing industry has never been better.
"The demographics are really working in our favor," Woda says. "We have a very strong, if not infinite, demand for affordable rental housing. The investor appetite is strong, and capital is available again. Financiers realize our deals are strong and can weather bad times. We're extremely bullish on our industry, and we think it's the best place to be in the real estate development world."
Indeed, the capital markets have been prime for developers and key in helping them make their deals work. The surveyed companies picked the strong availability of low debt as the most significant factor for the industry last year.
Looking ahead, developers are most worried about the elimination of or changes to the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program, edging out last year's top concern of having fewer local resources.
Finding gap financing, too, continues to be a hurdle. Woda says his firm has recently used resources that it hadn't thought about before, including payments in lieu of taxes and tax abatements.
"As communities realize workforce and affordable housing are key to their growth, they're openly working with us to make these deals work," Woda says.
If expectations hold true, the AHF 50 developers will build even more housing this year. They project starting construction on a collective 300 developments with about 26,000 affordable units.
See the complete developers list.