Meet Howard Wallick, co-owner of The Wallick Cos., a leading affordable housing firm headquartered in Columbus, Ohio.

The firm operates throughout the Midwest, with three key business divisions—Wallick Construction, Wallick-Hendy Properties, and Wallick-Hendy Development.

The company has developed and built hundreds of communities and manages more than 12,100 apartments, of which some 10,800 are affordable and about half of which are in communities managed for third-party clients.

Wallick tells us about his latest projects, his outlook for 2011, and what's coming next.

Q: How is The Wallick Cos. changing?

A: We're becoming more youthful and energetic, in part, by creating a livelier workplace with graphics, new meeting places, and a materials sample and demonstration center. We're becoming a better place to work, as we institute a stronger program of benefits, including training and wellness promotion. Also, we've become more focused on customer service – the customers include our residents and our management clients. And, we're growing.

Q: Tell us about an affordable housing development that you are working on?

A: The renovation of the Villages at Roll Hill in Cincinnati. Built in 1962, it now has about 3,000 residents who live in 703 units. The $36 million renovation includes significant work in the units and to the exteriors, including enhanced security. This will be the largest green renovation of an affordable housing community in the nation.

Q: How are your housing developments changing?

A: We are recapitalizing and renovating existing properties that are owned by us, by clients, and by others. We've become experts in renovating occupied communities (with all of the relocations and other concerns to address). Also, our developments are becoming much more environmentally sound, both in terms of using safe materials and energy conservation.

Q: What's a move that your firm recently made that other owners/developers can learn from?

A: We've formalized our resident services function by hiring an in-house manager to coordinate services such as helping with residents' nutritional needs, job-search assistance, tutoring, and counseling at many of our communities. This program is still in its infancy, but we feel that it will eventually help our residents and, by extension, help our communities.

Q: Favorite amenity or design feature at one of your developments?

A: We're renovating a historic hotel in Cambridge, Ohio, (which was previously converted to apartments in the 1980s) using state and federal historic credits and low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs). Our own construction company is doing this project. I love the crazy layouts in those units – no two are alike – and the huge rooms with high ceilings. The tenants are thrilled with their renovated units. Something as simple as the new ceiling fans – one elderly resident said she had never in her life had something that nice. That makes me feel great about what we do.

Q: Why will 2011 be better for affordable housing than 2010?

A: The finance environment continues to improve, with the 4 percent LIHTC market returning and with super low interest rates.

Q: Why will 2011 be harder for affordable housing than 2010?

A: The political environment is toxic, and we're in danger of losing the bipartisan consensus for affordable housing that has existed for over 40 years. I'm concerned with what may come out of the deficit reduction initiatives, as well as with the attitude of some of the populist, anti-government officials who have been elected.

Q: As the owner and principal of the firm, what do you spend most of your time working on? Has your role changed?

A: My sister, Julie Wallick, and I have the luxury of being able to help oversee and direct the company without the need to run the day-to-day activities. While looking at major initiatives, strategic planning, and overall activities, I also get involved in a number of specific business projects, particularly on the finance side. Our business partner and CEO, Tom Feusse, keeps us going and has brought so much to Wallick in the last few years. Julie and I are in touch with Tom constantly, and we schedule weekly update meetings. My role changed dramatically four years ago, when Julie and I bought the business from a trust – at that point we were able to start to set the direction and be much more involved.

Q: Best business advice that you have received?

A: Interestingly, two maxims that I learned in my first job in nonprofit fundraising from an old-time fundraiser and wonderful mentor, Jack Dorfman: “People give to people, not causes.” In other words, it's all about relationships. And, “You have to spend money to make money.” Don't be cheap, invest where needed (prudently, of course), and the return will more than make up for the spending.

Q: Best business advice that you can give?

A: Keep a sense of balance in your business/private life equation.

Q: Where would we find you when you are not working?

A: Traveling with my wife to see our three kids – all three are studying or living overseas this year. I am also very busy with volunteer work for several community organizations.

Q: Do you have any hidden talents?

A: Singing: I'm a baritone and occasional soloist in a community chorus.

Q: What's your favorite book and why?

A: “Don Quixote” – I took an entire semester college course on the book and loved the depiction of someone who wasn't afraid to “tilt at windmills;” the wonderful, deep friendship of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; and the adventures they had in their crazy travels. Also, it's really funny.

Q: Who would you like to meet and why?

A: I'd like to meet my father, Jack Wallick, again. He founded and built up the company. He died in 1995, and I'd love to talk with him about the bad and good decisions we've made since then. I think he'd be proud of our recent successes, and I know he'd have a lot of good advice to give us.

Q:  What's next for you and The Wallick Cos.?

A: Certainly, more units under management – folks are coming to us, and we have to focus intensely on doing the job right. We're going to expand, but stay in the Midwest and stay mostly in the affordable market. We're looking at the possibility of assembling some investment capital to acquire limited partnership units in our projects and to acquire other projects as well.