Jack Hatch balances two big roles”“affordable housing developer and Iowa state senator.

In the first, he's principal of Hatch Development Group, an award-winning affordable housing developer in Des Moines, Iowa. The firm's Oak Hill Jackson Brickstones community in Cedar Rapids was recognized as the best disaster-relief housing development by the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition in 2011.

In the other, he's a third-term senator, representing central Des Moines, which includes some of the highest- and lowest-income families in the state.

Hatch reveals how he got into affordable housing and shares how developers can work more closely with their elected officials.

How did you get started in affordable housing?

Prior to developing affordable housing, my wife, Sonja, and I owned five rental properties in a historic neighborhood in Des Moines, where we lived. There was a large parcel of land near our properties that we wanted to prevent a future inappropriate use, so I formed a nonprofit organization and submitted a low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) proposal to the housing agency.

What was an aha moment in your career?

During the development of our first project when I would ask for investments from as many sources as possible, nobody refused. I realized that Des Moines was hungry for affordable housing in its inner city and downtown business district. Since then, we have built, or are building, seven projects in and near downtown Des Moines. We developed the first newly constructed apartment in over 18 years (2003) in downtown, and since then there has been over 13 other market-rate and affordable housing projects in the city's downtown.

In addition to leading Hatch Development Group, you're a state senator. How has your work in one field influenced the other?

In many ways: First, my knowledge of public financing and tax policy allowed me to quickly adapt to the business of using private equity to finance an essential public project. Second, I was very comfortable presenting proposals that were publicly examined and that operate with public accountability. We make sure we conduct all of our business openly and transparently. Third, we approach public boards and commissions, city councils, and state agencies with an abundance of information; and no data is missing or incomplete. And last, our projects are often pictured in the local press as examples of quality affordable housing, which is a strategy that works in elected politics.

What can developers do to work more closely or better with their state and federal representatives?

Most state legislators know nothing about Sec. 42 (the LIHTC program) or most any federally sponsored housing. Quite a few states have limited state policy directives on housing (other than larger cities) and don't understand the financing. Developers can educate legislators, but we have to take the initiative. Ask to appear in front of legislative committees on economic development and expound on the value of new and affordable housing in rural and big city neighborhoods. Invite state legislators to the groundbreaking and grand opening ceremonies. Developers should attend a legislator's district forums and public meetings. Developers will be surprised at how well they would be accepted as a person who is knowledgeable about growth issues. Legislators are hungry for these types of economic strategies.

How can the industry increase the profile of affordable housing when elected officials are dealing with multiple issues and shrinking budgets?

Knowing that a great deal of housing finance is either federal subsidy (Sec. 8) or federal tax credits (Sec. 42), state legislators view affordable housing as a secondary issue. To elevate affordable housing, housing advocates need to present specific state proposals that “supplement” other economic growth and social issues. Housing needs to be a part of a larger economic development policy like tax policy, rural development, or urban revitalization, and housing developers need to form a coalition with the social advocates to raise the awareness of housing as a “social issue.” Establishing a presence at the state house will eventually pay off.

As an affordable housing builder, what issue is keeping you up at night?

There are more than I care to mention, but I don't let any of them bother me too much.

How is affordable housing changing in Iowa?

Cities are beginning to take a more positive attitude about low-income housing. They are beginning to use the Sec. 42 funds and market-rate mortgages to rebuild their downtown areas. This is a departure from the past when they let developers loose without any concern with creating the capacity to replace housing in distressed areas. I contend that developers are the first people a city needs to help finance housing but the least desirable to plan where housing should be built. Iowa cities are beginning to understand that concept.

Share with us a creative step that Hatch Development Group has recently taken that other developers may learn from?

We have several projects, but the most exciting one is our single-family “rent to own” project modeled after the Greystone Homes of Chicago. We are presently constructing homes in Des Moines made of precast cement, 11-inch walls, and geothermal heating. The four-bedroom, 2,100-square-foot home was inspired by the thousands of in-filled “greystones” completed after the Chicago fire. In Des Moines, there are hundreds of single lots in distressed areas where our homes will be built. Since this is a departure from other Iowa projects in terms of switching from multifamily to single-family housing and from stick built to cement, we are hoping it could be replicated.

Favorite fictional hero and why?

Superman because actor Brandon Routh, who most recently played the fictional hero, is from a small town just south of Des Moines. His mother, Katie Routh, is a Democratic candidate for the Iowa House this election. In addition, Iowa's Art Pennington who is a legendary member of the Negro Baseball League and from Cedar Rapids (where we named an apartment building after him) is nicknamed “Superman.”

Where would we find you when you're not working?

Campaigning for candidates, talking and working with constituents, formulating policy proposals, and working at our small acreage growing grapes.

What's next for Jack Hatch? 

Hard to tell.