Recently, CHH Housing Development Associate Charles Hall sat down with A-P Hurd, President of SkipStone, a consulting firm that provides real estate and planning services to private and public clients. She is the former president of Touchstone, a real estate development company that built nearly 3 million square feet of office, retail, hotel, and residential space between 2007 and 2017 and won the national Developer of the Year award in 2016. With our real estate team, she has been developing a model for alternative financing which could make the creation of affordable housing less dependent on government funding. Earlier this month, she gave the keynote speech at CHH’s Top of the Town dinner.
Q: What do you think are some common misconceptions about developers and the kinds of changes that occur when cities grow and neighborhoods transform? What would you want people to know about this work?
A: In a growing city, developers are the people who create capacity for new arrivals. For many people who don’t like that their city is growing (and therefore changing), it’s easy to blame developers. But the reality is that development is a consequence of population and job growth, not the cause.
Human migration is the biggest cause of urban growth in places like Seattle. Regional migration for economic reasons is an even bigger demographic force in the US than immigration, but people talk about it a lot less. There’s a lot of “good liberals” in Seattle that are pro-immigration but anti-growth in Seattle—however, the people coming to Seattle from other parts of the country are driven by the same search for economic opportunity as immigrants. So why shouldn’t we make room for them?
We talk a lot in Seattle about “preserving neighborhood character”, but that may be less important than housing everyone who needs it in our region and doing so in a way that is transit-connected to areas of economic opportunity. If you’re a good liberal, that should be the biggest goal of all.
Still, developers make a convenient bogeyman when people aren’t feeling brave.
Q: Last fall, the Seattle Office of Housing received more than $250 million in applications for housing but had only $40 million in its coffers. That seems to indicate great need as well as great motivation on the part of developers to build affordable housing. Tell us more about why helping Capitol Hill Housing is important to you and why a market rate commercial real estate developer might be a good partner?
A: Capitol Hill Housing is one of the most innovative affordable housing providers in the region. I love that CHH thinks big and thinks about environment and housing. CHH also thinks creatively and systemically about problems and gets things done.
In fact, the workforce housing project that we are working on together recognizes the need for housing at all price points and the importance of getting housing into production quickly. We’re hoping to come up with private sector capital strategies that can build workforce housing (80-90% of average median income) in larger volumes in the hands of an experienced non-profit like CHH, and get it built faster than we might otherwise be able, given the limited availability of public funds for a traditional non-profit capital structure. If we can do something replicable, it will be a huge win.
Q: Do you have a life philosophy that ties to the work you do?
A: Hmmm. Yes, but haven’t boiled it down to 200 words yet. How about this: Be kind, be myself, think in systems, own the problems and work them, and live like someone who’s only got one planet.
Q: Describe an ideal developer in three words.
A: Creative, empathetic, realistic.