Marin County’s Catalyst Housing Group amasses $1.3B in California affordable housing for ‘missing middle’
A Marin County startup focused on supply housing to teachers and emergency personnel often priced out of the state’s housing markets has bought 2,166 California apartments in the past two years, including 1,008 units newly acquired partly via an expansion of its portfolio to Southern California.
Catalyst Housing Group has deployed $1.3 billion so far to buy seven market-rate complexes, refurbish them and rent them to individuals and families in the “missing middle,” earning of 60%–120% of the local median household income, according to founder Jordan Moss.
Those projects include three complexes in the North Bay.
Catalyst acquired the 390-unit Annadel Apartments in Santa Rosa in Sonoma County in April 2019 with proceeds from $194 million in government revenue bonds, 286-unit Verdent at Green Valley in Fairfield in Solano County that August from $115 million in bonds, and 342-unit Serenity at Larkspur in Marin County in February of last year from $226 million in bonds. Occupancy is in the mid-90% range, with the remainder of the units largely in transition between tenants.
Catalyst just completed the acquisition of 699 units in two Glendale properties less than 10 years old and a 309-unit complex in the East Bay, deals totaling $525 million. Existing tenants remain in these properties.
The property-acquisition model is different from the model used by providers of rent-assistance housing, Moss said.
“Typically, firms leverage tax-credit bonds and local monies,” he said. “What’s unique in what we’re doing is it hinges on governmental-ownership leveraging to cover all costs of acquisition and renovation.”
The goal is to not compete for the funding sources usually used in the “capital stack” for subsidized-housing projects, Moss said. That’s something nonprofit housing companies that operate in the area appreciate.
"Catalyst's innovative capital structure complements the work the nonprofit housing providers are doing while not eating up any of our resources," said Linda Mandolini, president of nonprofit housing developer and owner Eden Housing, in a statement. “They can acquire and offer middle-income housing quickly, creating real solutions for this key segment of the population."
The Larkspur-based firm has achieved over $1 billion of these acquisitions in the past two years through a partnership with the California Community Housing Agency. The state agency was formed in 2019 originally under a joint-powers agreement in King County, but since then the list of member governments and housing authorities has expanded to 26, including Santa Rosa, Fairfield, Larkspur, Napa and Marin County, according to the organization’s website.
The CalCHA property acquisition process works like this. A real estate company such as Catalyst identifies a middle-income housing opportunity in a member jurisdiction. Then the agency issues governmental revenue bonds to acquire the property, which is rent-restricted for low- and moderate-income households (60%-80% and 80%-120% of the median, respectively). The properties become exempt from property taxes, and the corresponding agency members get the financial benefits.
At the same time Catalyst worked on the acquisition of Serenity in Larkspur, the firm established what it calls the Essential Housing Fund, seeded with $100,000. The fund is looking to expand innovative affordable-housing structures in the state and elsewhere, subsidizing rents of public school teachers living at Serenity, and funding the improvement of diversity and equity in the real estate industry.
Catalyst also formed an “innovation lab,” spearheaded by Stephanie Fuhrman, who came to the firm in the middle of last year with experience from Graystar, one of the largest apartment managers in the world. That effort is looking to roll out soon via a combination rooftop solar and battery backup system at Catalyst’s North Bay properties, designed for resiliency during fire season and provide cooling stations for nearby seniors. Another project through Flex is to allow residents to make partial rent payments throughout the month, rather than all at the beginning, to adapt to income patterns of independent contractors.
Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before the Business Journal, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. He has a degree from Walla Walla University. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-4256.