BETHESDA, MD.—David Reznick's extraordinary career in the affordable housing industry began with just one client, nearly 50 years ago.
Fresh out of college, the newly minted certified public accountant joined sole practitioner Herb Ziger in 1961 as his first employee. When one of Ziger's clients began developing an affordable housing project, Reznick was charged with helping the client navigate the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD's) Sec. 221(d)(3) program.
“From that point on, I was hooked,” says Reznick. “It's something I immediately enjoyed doing. You can actually see what you've done, and you have an opportunity to give advice beyond just running numbers.”
That was the seed of an expansive career that saw Reznick become one of the nation's foremost experts in HUD compliance and the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program.
Blazing a trail
Reznick became a partner five years after joining Ziger, and by 1972, the firm had grown to 35 employees when it was acquired by Alexander Grant & Co. (now known as Grant Thornton). Reznick stayed on at Alexander Grant as a partner until 1977. But the large firm's lack of focus on real estate, combined with Reznick's passion and entrepreneurial spirit, led to a dramatic choice.
“My own personal interest in affordable housing was not being served best in a larger organization,” says Reznick. “I felt I'd have more opportunity to help my clients by starting something from scratch.”
So Reznick opened his own firm with two men he knew very well: Stuart Fedder, whom Reznick met in the second grade, and Ivan Silverman, a high school buddy. “With just eight people on staff, the three of us walked down K Street and started over,” says Silverman. “We've since grown to become this giant, but I don't think any of us ever thought we would become this big.”
Indeed, few could have predicted that this start-up would become a top-20 national accounting firm. Its first holiday party was held in Reznick's basement, and the tune “Take This Job and Shove It” was the party's theme.
Bolstered by clients like Winthrop Financial and CRI, the firm had 50 employees by its third year, outgrowing its office space in downtown Washington, D.C., and moving to a larger office in Bethesda, Md. Two years later, it opened a Baltimore office.
Then, the LIHTC program was created through the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which had an enormous impact on the firm's group. Though few people were initially interested in the program—it was just temporary, set to expire five years later—Reznick was one of its true believers.
“I knew, even though it was initially temporary, that there was going to be enough push to make it permanent,” says Reznick, co-founder and chairman of the Reznick Group. “The term ”˜affordable housing' is like ”˜painless dentistry'— it's a contradiction in terms. We knew there was going to be, and continues to be, a tremendous need for affordable housing.”
Since the program was made permanent in 1990, Reznick's business acumen has driven further expansion as the firm has become a national player. All told, the company that started with just 11 people now employs more than 1,100 among 11 offices. Yet the firm's principals have never lost sight of their beginnings.
“David's family was in the grocery business, a mom-and-pop store, and, coincidentally, so was mine,” says Silverman. “So our mentality was family oriented, and even as we grew bigger we maintained that warmth in the attitude of our staff, and that always comes from the top.”
Those who know him best say that Reznick's quick wit is exceeded only by his never-ending flow of ideas. “Dave is one of the brightest and most creative people I know; he's sometimes like a stew of ideas that keeps bubbling over so fast you can't keep up with them,” says Tom Bozzuto, chairman of developer The Bozzuto Group. “And he's one of this nation's greatest contributors to the creation of affordable housing.”
And Reznick remains just as humble as that kid who walked through Herb Ziger's door in 1961. When asked to detail his proudest accomplishment, he turns the focus to his staff: “Building leaders is my proudest accomplishment. If I look through my list of partners, I've got tremendous depth in leadership.”