Gulf Coast Housing Partnership is on track to maintain the momentum that enabled them to develop 4,500 affordable homes and apartments in 15 years. Of course, major undertakings are not without their difficulties.
“There is simply not enough capital to meet the needs people have to live in quality, affordable homes. That’s our challenge,” said GCHP President & CEO Kathy Laborde. “We need to make sure our company can stand the test of time: will the balance sheet have the strength to endure?”
To make the answer to that question a firm yes, GCHP’s new long-term strategic plan is aimed at building their capital stack. With a strong balance sheet and income they can keep serving some of the most economically depressed areas in the nation.
A robust development and preservation pipeline
Based out of New Orleans, LA, GCHP is adding to its 1,800 apartment portfolio with 700 units currently under construction and another 700 at the closing table. These significant investments include:
- Constructing 120 mixed-income apartments in downtown Houston, TX ($32.1 million)
- Renovating 168 apartments in Montgomery, AL with residents in place ($17 million)
- Building 116 apartments in Baton Rouge, LA in with the Council on Aging ($20 million)
They provide housing across four states bordering the Gulf of Mexico: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. One third of their residences are reserved for those who earn less than 50% of AMI. GCHP was chartered by NeighborWorks America in early 2021, after several years of working with the Southern Region under a formal MOU.
Increasing development capacity in the Gulf States is vital. “Our area can be last in everything, and statistics for some of the areas we serve can be abysmal,” Laborde said. “Ultimately, we have to be good listeners and understand what we all are trying to get to. There can be not-in-my-backyard-ism no matter what neighborhood we go into.”
People help make it possible
Partners like the Council on Aging and Volunteers of America help them meet and overcome the challenges of funding and mission alignment. Not only do they have a strong and committed board of directors, they’re also focused on staff development, particularly training mid-level managers.
“Those are our future leaders,” Laborde said. “We invest in our people to help advance our business.”
GCHP is also investing in systems, tools and resources that will help them better report impact and promote their accomplishments externally and internally. With employees in multiple states, they started an internal newsletter to keep everyone on the same page. They also plan to issue their first annual report this year.
Ultimately, the human touch helps improve quality-of-life for residents of GCHP communities. They enjoy modern appliances, updated kitchens, building security, and convenient locations accessible from public transportation. Small details, such as gated parking, can help residents feel safe and secure in their homes.
Health accessibility and COVID’s Impact
In recent years, GCHP has addressed a growing need to strengthen the relationship between health and housing. GCHP works with healthcare providers and managed care organizations for investment, and includes those partners in its pipeline transactions.
“It’s very important to us. As much as we can, we build healthcare on site, or build sites close to health care,” Laborde said.
When COVID’s stay-at-home orders hit last March, GCHP was deemed essential, so its offices remained open throughout. They created flexible work plans with staff, understanding that everyone had different health, childcare and employment concerns. They also helped staff set up for remote work and invested to meet new needs, such as web cameras.
“It’s been a focused and dedicated effort by everyone across the board,” Laborde said.
With so many projects in development, COVID caused some hiccups and delays; all surmountable.
“It’s hard, but we had to accept things the way they were, keep people focused, and keep energy levels up,” Laborde said.
GCHP has also worked in partnership with its residents to prevent and avoid evictions during the pandemic, and once eviction moratoriums are lifted.
“We’ve worked on this from day one with great intentionality. We didn’t want anyone to be evicted,” Laborde said. “We’ve done everything possible to get our residents in a position to apply for rental assistance, and came up with payment plans. We’re going to fight to get all the assistance we can for them.”
A partnership approach
The partnership approach to their relationships has served them well. Partners such as other developers, service providers, public agencies and local governments often note GCHP’s persistence and dedication, and willingness to stay involved from the start of a project to its finish.
“You’ve got to hang in there and fight the fight. There’s so many reasons sometimes to pick up your marbles and go home,” Laborde said. “There’s so many people that just need a better place to live, and that’s what keeps us going.”