Timothy D. Fournier is president and CEO of Conifer Realty, LLC, a leading affordable housing developer based in Rochester, N.Y.
Active in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, Conifer has developed more than 200 properties with more than 15,000 units and continues to grow.
Fournier, who has held the top post since 2006, shares what the company has planned in 2012.
Q: How did you get started in affordable housing?
A: I started working for Coopers and Lybrand in 1982, and Conifer was one of my real estate clients. I was recruited to join Conifer in 1986, just prior to the enactment of the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program. I am extremely proud to have been part of this organization for the past 25 years.
Q: What does Conifer have planned for 2012?
A: Our strategy is to grow in two ways: organically and through acquisitions. Organically our strategy is to develop eight new properties throughout our five-state region and continue to focus on the long-term value of our existing portfolio. On the acquisition front, we will focus on opportunities to purchase general partner and limited partner interests, either singularly or on a portfolio basis.
Q: What will be the biggest challenge for the firm in 2012?
A: Due to financial constraints with many state budgets, access to necessary soft funds will be increasingly difficult. Accordingly, the number of LIHTC deals financed will stagnate or even decline. Hence, the competition for the available funds and related LIHTC awards will be heightened.
Q: How will you respond to that challenge?
A: We will respond by narrowing our focus to developments that are highly supported at the local community level and meet the highest priorities of the respective state tax credit allocating agencies. We believe coupling these characteristics with a high level of readiness to start construction will position our projects to be the most competitive for funding.
Q: Tell us about one of your most recent affordable housing deals or developments.
A: The Hamilton and Erie Harbor represent the complete transformation of a 404-unit low-quality, high-density, urban blighted low-income housing project built in 1974. Located along the Genesee River in the South Wedge neighborhood of Rochester, this brownfield site was home to a 13-story, 202-unit tower along with four four-story, concrete bunker-style townhouse buildings. The project's site orientation served as a continuous fortress and barrier between the river and the adjacent neighborhood.
Acquired at the brink of foreclosure in 2004, Conifer developed a revitalization plan and crafted a redevelopment scope and financing package that, four years later, met the needs of the many involved stakeholders. Beginning in 2008, the 13-story tower (The Hamilton) was completely renovated inside and out with 80 percent of the residents in place. The exterior revitalization boasts an exterior skin palate of 21 different colors and has become quite a showcase addition to the Rochester skyline. Renovations were completed in December 2009, and it enjoys a 100-plus person waitlist today.
As part of the settlement agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, New York State Urban Development Corp., and the city of Rochester, the four-story, cement, barrack-like townhouses would be demolished and replaced with a 130-unit, 80/20 apartment community (Erie Harbor) that would provide river views for residents and public access points for the neighborhood. With a bold, new urban design, construction is about 60 percent complete today. Market response has been extremely strong, and our first residents moved in [in November 2011]. We look forward to the completion of Rochester's newest mixed-income, urban apartment community and to sharing it with the neighborhood and 332 new residents.
Q: How are your projects changing?
A: Our newly completed projects continue to improve every year--this is one of my favorite things to observe. One of our organization's mantras is to “Do What We Do Better.” This embodies a constant focus at all levels--from maintenance techs to district managers, to property accountants, risk managers, and senior managers. Because this is an ongoing daily process, we experience “tweaking” in finishes, layouts, and functional items such as entry systems, lighting, and energy savings. The value of this process is apparent when comparing product developed five years ago versus that placed in service today.
Q: Share a favorite quote, fact, or statistic about affordable housing.
A: When I describe the difference between affordable housing communities recently preserved or newly constructed versus those built 30, 20, or even 10 years ago, two television commercials come to mind. The General Motors commercial that said “This is not your father's Oldsmobile” and the Kellogg's Corn Flakes commercial that boasted “Try us again for the first time.” In the past 10 years, in particular, our industry has significantly raised the bar in terms of product quality and long-term management effectiveness. I encourage anyone who has a negative preconceived notion of affordable housing to drop by one of Conifer's new communities and see if they leave with that same belief.
Q: Besides the usual work papers, what's on your desk?
A: Photos of my wife, daughter with her horses, and son playing football, and personal awards.
Q: As we start 2012, do you have any new year's resolutions?
A: Continued mentoring of the Conifer senior leadership team with a keen focus on implementing and accomplishing our 2012 strategic plan.
Q: If you unexpected had the afternoon off, where would we find you?
A: At the lake with my wife and kids, watching my daughter ride her horses, fishing or playing hoops with my son, golfing, or sipping a great glass of cabernet with friends.
Q: What's next for Timothy Fournier and Conifer?
A: Exploring new structures for completing LIHTC deals, considering portfolio acquisitions in our present or neighboring geographic regions, and educating our lawmakers about the incredible successes of the LIHTC program and the true economic and community development values it brings to urban, suburban, and rural communities alike.