Shifting Gears in Multifamily Development

If we can keep pedaling and look for that unused gear, there are still opportunities to be found in the multifamily sector

BY MANNY GONZALEZ, FAIA, LEED AP

Charles M. Shultz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, once observed, “Life is like a 10-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.” The same can be said for the multifamily construction industry over the last decade. It has been about micro-units in cool, urban locations and keeping up in the amenities arms race, all to attract that huge millennial population. Recently though, there have been developers who have decided to shift gears in order to tap into new markets.

The Bozzuto Group has been building and operating successful apartment communities up and down the Atlantic Seaboard since Tom Bozzuto founded the company in 1988. Over those 30 years, Bozzuto has developed, acquired, and built over 45,000 units, but it was not until recently that the company decided to shift gears and construct its first age-qualified apartment community, Canvas Valley Forge, located in suburban Philadelphia, in the King of Prussia Town Center.

There was not a huge learning curve for Bozzuto. It was typical wood-frame construction over a semi-subterranean concrete garage with one- and two-bedroom apartments, many units with dens. It also had over-the-top amenities, but that is where the shift really did occur. Instead of the student housing inspired list of amenities, this community strives to simplify and declutter the lives of its residents. Yes, it offers all of the comfort and attention of a resort, but more than that, Canvas focuses on putting time back into its residents’ day and providing the means to a vibrant and active lifestyle without the burden of homeownership.

Canvas says that their “amenities are endless, including an on-site salon, grab-and-go market, and a curated calendar of events. You can unleash your inner artist in the Canvas Room or connect with neighbors over dinner in our private dining room. With shopping, dining, parks, and golf courses nearby, there is always an adventure awaiting.”

Bozzuto is not the only larger multifamily player to venture into the 55+ market. Greystar has launched a whole new brand called Overture with many of the same amenity offerings as Canvas and so have several others on a national, regional, or local basis.

Trilogy in Summerlin’s Modern Collection combines the ease of living in a traditional active-adult single-family home with the drama of penthouse views while delivering townhome densities.
(Photo credit: Creative Noodle)

While the rental industry has found a new gear with age-qualified multifamily communities, the multifamily for-sale industry has also found one of its 10 gears that they have not used before. You can look all over the country to see the many Trilogy communities Shea Homes has built over the last few years and I doubt that you will find any multifamily product that is not simply attached homes. That was until they shifted gears at Summerlin in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Sure, the Resort and Luxe Collections at Trilogy are attached-at-the-hip “multifamily” condos, but it is the Modern Collection plan that seems to be the most popular with buyers. Unlike the other horizontal duplexes at Trilogy with the master suite downstairs and the other programming on the second floor, this community is a vertical duplex with single-level living on the second and third floors above two 2-car garages and ground-floor private entries for each home.

The award-winning 2,425-square-foot Apex home has spaces for entertainment, private top-floor relaxation, and savoring outdoor living. Residents ride a private elevator up to the main living area and step into an open-concept living space that is awe-inspiring and thoughtfully designed. The oversized kitchen island is a striking centerpiece, and miles of counter space make the job as chef easy. One of Apex’s most dramatic features is its rolling walls of glass in the dining room, which can be pushed aside to reveal the roomy wraparound deck with spectacular views of the Las Vegas Strip. Providing single-level living at a density only found in townhomes has proven to be a new gear that buyers in the 55+ market embrace.

Developers are not just finding new gears to shift into for demographics and lifestyle; some are finding some new avenues in construction methods. Companies like Katerra and Entekra are positioning themselves to create a disruption in the way construction is delivered. Ultimately, this requires builders to change their business and operations model, which could be a challenge.

Porte-cochère welcomes guests to Canvas Valley Forge, a modern age-targeted community integrated into a walkable community. (Photo credit: Ray Cavicchio)

In the meantime, creative designers and developers are teaming up to shift their focus toward cargo containers. It started with some cool commercial spaces like the Container Bar on Rainey Street in Austin and the Starbucks in Seattle constructed from stacked shipping containers. American Family Housing brought them into the multifamily industry with their award-winning Potter’s Lane affordable housing for homeless veterans in Midway City, California.

Aedis Real Estate Group has teamed up with KTGY Architecture + Planning to shift a higher density gear with three shipping container communities in the works, the 84-unit Hope on Alvarado, the 98-unit Hope on Hyde Park and the 43-unit Hope on Broadway. Similar to Potter’s Lane, these three communities are intended as homes for Los Angeles’ chronically homeless. These developments are not only shifting gears on construction methods, but they are also shifting on what is probably the biggest issue we have in homebuilding: creating affordable housing for the astounding number of homeless Americans.

With the rising cost of land, labor issues, and increasing construction costs, it may seem like the multifamily industry is peddling their 10-speed uphill these days. But if we can continue to peddle and look for that unused gear, there are still opportunities to be found. As Albert Einstein observed, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

Manny Gonzalez, FAIA, LEED AP, is the managing principal of the Los Angeles office of KTGY Architecture + Planning. He can be reached at mgonzalez@ktgy.com

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