MARTIN DUNN is president of Dunn Development Corp., a firm he founded in 1998 and which specializes in affordable and supportive-housing development in New York City.
Dunn has been involved in the development of more than 1,500 units of new housing.
One of his recent projects is the Myrtle Avenue Apartments in Brooklyn’s Bedford- Stuyvesant neighborhood. The 33-unit development transformed a vacant cityowned lot into affordable housing for families. Ten units are set aside for families that were formerly homeless and whose head of household has AIDS. Developed with a nonprofit partner, Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development Corp., the project’s design incorporated façade details from the neighborhood and included built-in homework areas in the apartments and a play area. It is also a certified Energy Star building.
Q How did you get started in the affordable housing business?
A In 1992, I started working for a community development corporation in East New York, Brooklyn. My background was in social change work, and it was there that I realized that good affordable housing development projects not only benefited individual tenants but could also help transform communities.
Q Your forprofit company builds supportive housing as well as affordable housing. What’s the biggest challenge to developing supportive housing, and how have you overcome it?
A The challenge is you are adding more pieces to already complicated puzzles— particularly getting the rental subsidies and support services to work together with the capital financing. Our focus has been on integrating supportive housing into larger projects, which has been even more challenging. We have overcome this by developing real expertise with the various government programs that fund the operating and service studies.
Another key to our success has been partnering with strong nonprofit supportiveservice providers such as Community Access, Center for Family Support, CAMBA, Volunteers of America, and others.
And it certainly has helped that a number of my staff worked in supportive housing before joining Dunn Development.
Q You’ve also built environmentally friendly projects. What lesson have you learned from doing green projects?
A The first lesson has been that you can do this in affordable housing—and that it is an important part of maintaining affordability. We have also learned that you have to translate your abstract environmental concerns into very technical aspects of constructing better buildings. We spend a lot of time investigating and specifying insulation, air sealing, windows, heating and ventilation systems, lighting controls, and plumbing fixtures.
We also realize that we have a lot to learn about what works and what doesn’t, and are trying to evaluate the future maintenance and operational issues of the systems we have been installing in our buildings.
Q How do you see affordable housing changing in the next five years?
A I think the trends are toward mixed-income, mixed-use, and sustainable development.
Q What’s your dream project?
A We were just awarded it by the city of New York in a competitive process— the Navy Green project, which we are doing in collaboration with L&M Equity Participants. It is the redevelopment of a full city block—in the Wallabout section of Brooklyn—which was a former Navy brig. It is an exciting mixed-use, mixed-income initiative. The housing components serve a wide range of income tiers, including low-income, moderate-income and market-rate, and combine homeownership (both townhouses and cooperatives), rental housing, and supportive housing. The project also includes retail space, a day care center, and a visual arts center, and is centered around a common green, with each building having semi-private open space connecting to fully shared open space. Every building in the project will be (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) LEED-Silver certified. As you could guess, the name of the project, Navy Green, comes from our vision of turning a former military site into a new green community.
Q What’s your favorite design touch or amenity at one of your developments?
A In collaboration with NYCwireless, we’ve installed WiFi networks in two of our buildings, providing tenants with free high-speed Internet access in their apartments and in public areas. We’ve also started a pilot initiative to provide tenants with free or reduced-price computers.
I’m also always drawn to the gardens and children’s play areas that we incorporate into our projects. Having three young children, I know what a great amenity an on-site play area is.
Q What’s the last book you read?
AAcross the Savage Sea by Maud Fontenoy, the first woman to row across the North Atlantic Ocean. I love books about people persevering through extreme situations and pushing themselves beyond what they thought was possible.
Q If you unexpectedly had tomorrow afternoon off, where would we find you?
A In the park playing with my three young children (ages 4, 6, and 8).