Marin County CEO Jordan Moss finds ‘essential housing’ for those being left behind

CEO Spotlight

In this monthly series, the Business Journal talks with who occupy the lofty spot in a local organization, asking about their professional and personal opportunities and challenges.

The series is sponsored by Summit State Bank and Sonoma Clean Power. They had no input on the editorial content.

As CEO of Larkspur-based Catalyst Housing Group, the only job Jordan Moss would trade for would be as a player for the Golden State Warriors. Moss played a year of professional ball in Europe after being on UC Davis’ team.

“That competitive nature is definitely an important attribute to bring to business,” said Moss, who founded Catalyst in 2015.

Today, the 43-year-old finds himself jumping through regulatory hoops to create housing for the middle class. Moss says he is frustrated that wage growth has not kept pace with the price of housing, leading to teachers and other professionals who often have trouble finding a place to live.

“People are finding themselves further and further behind. It’s made our work that much more important,” Moss said. “It’s important to find optional housing for the folks being left behind.”

Catalyst acquires multifamily housing units and converts them into rentals for people who meet certain income requirements. Prices are more in line with average income levels than average rental prices, thus making them affordable to people who don’t qualify for traditional low-income housing.

In 2019, Catalyst launched what it calls “essential housing,“ partnering with California Community Housing Agency, which acts as a joint powers authority to issue government bonds to acquire the properties.

Catalyst, as a certified B Corporation, makes its money from the acquisition and asset management of these “essential housing” communities.

Some critics of the business practice say jurisdictions are hurt because state regulations do not allow them to collect property taxes on projects built under this scenario.

To this, Moss said all deals have been vetted in the open, for the public to comment on.

“(Each) transaction has been locally approved, in a public setting, by the governing body of the underlying jurisdiction,” he said.

Catalyst bought its last property in September 2021, a nearly 200-unit Summit in Sausalito in Marin County. The market rate units are now all restricted low- and moderate-income housing. No one was forced to leave, he says. The lower rates are phased in when those paying market rate move out.

The following is a Q&A between the Business Journal and Moss that has been edited for clarity and space.

Catalyst’s mission is to provide housing for the “missing middle,” those earning 60% to 120% of the local median household income. How do you do this?

We are believers that properly functioning communities require adequate and affordable housing for our essential workforce.

Working toward this goal, we pioneered an investment model to ensure that our nurses, teachers and first responders, among others, are provided pathways to live, work and thrive directly within the communities they serve.

Since Catalyst completed the industry’s first ever “essential housing” transaction in 2019, multiple governmental entities have leveraged our financial innovations to produce more than 14,000 units of rent-restricted housing throughout California.

What do you say to the critics of your business model?

Cities and counties throughout California are experiencing a crushing housing crisis and are desperately seeking rent-restricted housing for their critical middle-income workforce. Our Essential Housing model is the only scalable solution to this problem, which is why it has been so widely adopted.

More granularly, it is important to understand that property tax exemptions have always been necessary to subsidize affordable housing production.

Do you envision a company like yours will always be needed in California?

My dream for Catalyst is that we scale our innovation and impact to such a significant level that our efforts are no longer needed. That said, the myriad complexities related to developing housing at scale throughout California means that our innovative preservation solutions will be needed for the foreseeable future.

While Catalyst is based in Marin County, it has properties throughout California. Is there any place you would not want to do business?

Catalyst is interested in bringing innovative, impact-driven solutions to any community suffering from an under supply of quality housing. Unfortunately, this dynamic can be found in nearly every major city throughout the country.

What are the benefits and drawbacks to being located in the North Bay and doing business here?

The North Bay is world class in terms of providing direct access to amazing, creative people doing world changing things. Obvious drawbacks include the cost of living and the general lack of diversity.

If you could change one government regulation, what would it be and why?

I would drastically reduce the local controls regularly leveraged by NIMBYs to stall nearly any housing development anywhere.

What trends that affect your industry keep you up at night?

Our country’s growing racial wealth gap and related structural inequities is what drives our entire team each day.

What concerns do you have for your business and industry looking out five years?

My biggest concerns for the multifamily industry are primarily related to the difficulties of scaling development pipelines to a point where we can meaningfully address the supply-driven housing crisis in this country.

The ripple effects of our perpetual shortfall of affordable housing include a growing wealth gap, increased carbon emissions, involuntary mobility, social dislocation, health declines, academic under performance, out migration, homelessness and more.

There are no near-term scalable solutions in sight, and we simply will not have fully functioning communities without adequately and affordably housing our essential workforce.

What is your opinion about the future of the national economy? And how will that affect your business?

While I am a long-term believer in the future of the U.S. economy, our house view is things will continue to be choppy for the foreseeable future. In addition to well-documented known unknowns, such as inflationary pressures and geopolitical risks, it feels like there may be more unknown unknowns lurking in the shadows than ever before.

What are you doing to attract employees? How has recruitment changed since the start of the pandemic?

We are focused on attracting and retaining the best and brightest people on the planet. We have been successful in doing so by offering unique pathways for impact-driven individuals to find financial success while tangibly and positively impacting our world.

Are wages the answer to recruiting great talent? Why or why not?

Paying competitive wages is always crucial to recruiting great talent. But recruiting great talent is meaningless if you cannot retain that talent.

We try to cultivate an environment where each of our Catalysts feels heard and respected, feels great about their contributions to our mission, and finds meaningful pathways for personal and career development.

What is your approach to making tough/important business decisions?

The first step would be to consider all potential outcomes and avoid rushing to judgment. I typically then consult a network of close friends I am lucky enough to have cultivated over the years.

I have found that presenting your thoughts out loud to individuals who provide direct and honest feedback is the single most valuable exercise one can undertake before making an important decision.

Lastly, in my experience, even more important than making a tough decision is your willingness to reconsider that decision in the future should facts and circumstances change.

What qualities in other executives do you try to emulate?

I am always impressed by strategic thinkers who remain laser focused on the long game and always making the “right” decision, regardless of less-than-ideal short-term outcomes.

What was the hardest lesson you learned early in your career which you now recognize as an important one?

One of the hardest lessons learned throughout my career is related to the difficulty of forging healthy, longstanding partnerships.

What was your first job? What was your first career job?

My first paid job was cleaning fish tanks at the pet store near my house. My first career job was at Fowler Flanagan Partners (now FPA Multifamily), where I was lucky enough to be hired as an acquisitions analyst after a chance encounter at Gold’s Gym with multifamily industry titan Greg Fowler.

When you were a child, teenager, even in college, is this the job you thought you would have one day? If not, what were your earlier career aspirations?

As a child, I fell in love with the show “CHiPs” and wanted to be a motorcycle cop.

As a teenager, I set my sights on becoming an investment banker because I heard they made lots of money. In college, I was lucky enough to be introduced to the world of commercial real estate by a professor who owned most of the student housing surrounding UC Davis.

Prior to taking this professor’s classes, I had no idea that one could make a career out of owning and operating apartment buildings. Having this lightbulb turned on for me absolutely changed the course of my life and is why Catalyst is so intentional and passionate about developing pipelines for diverse talent to be introduced to the world of commercial real estate.

What from your childhood was a clear sign you would one day have an executive leadership position?

Being elected eighth-grade student body president in the Sausalito Marin City School District after running a successful “Moss for Boss” campaign.

What advice would you give someone just starting his or her career in your industry?

I will answer by borrowing the following advice from Scott Galloway, one of my favorite business and technology pundits: “Be warriors, not wokesters. Lift heavy weights and run long distances – in the gym and in your mind. Many tasks you’ll be asked to perform early in your career will be tedious. Don’t do what you are asked to do, but what you are capable of doing. Think of it as boot camp before being sent to battle, as there are millions of other warriors fighting to win the same regions of prosperity.”

What would you re-do in your career if you could and why?

While I have made plenty of mistakes in my career, I wouldn’t change any of them.

I view each twist and turn as valuable life lessons that have allowed me to develop and refine my vision and mission for Catalyst.

Other than playing for the Golden State Warriors, there is nothing I would rather be doing today than harnessing these past experiences to address the most critical social issues of our time.

CEO Spotlight

In this monthly series, the Business Journal talks with who occupy the lofty spot in a local organization, asking about their professional and personal opportunities and challenges.

The series is sponsored by Summit State Bank and Sonoma Clean Power. They had no input on the editorial content.

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