CLEVELAND—The locally based NRP Group takes its business seriously. Very seriously. In fact, according to principal J. David Heller, its mission is no less than to “heal the world,” and he says his growing team embraces it. NRP is a dual winner in this year’s NAHB Pillars of the Industry Awards. One honor went to the firm’s Belleza at Cresta Bella development in San Antonio (Best Garden Apartment Community). But it is the award for Best Multifamily Development that is the focus here. (For more on the Pillars of the Industry Awards, click here.)
Housing is a basic human right, says Heller, who partners with T. Richard Bailey in the leadership of the firm, and as developers of both affordable and market-rate housing, the team is in a prime position to support that right while providing product diversity enough (it also builds student housing) to maintain growth despite cyclical change.
In fact, that’s exactly what happened in the depths of the last recession. “During the recession we were growing as an affordable housing developer, and there was a real flight to quality in that sector,” Heller tells GlobeSt.com. “Stimulus dollars went only to those who were truly best in class, and so we were able to maintain a full stride in the recession.” Wisely, the firm also started laying the groundwork for market-rate deals, “none of which were successful at the time,” but did come to fruition in the recovery, “and we were the first ones out of the gate with market-rate product.”
Impressively so. In the past three years, according to the firm’s NAHB presentation, NRP developed and constructed 8,966 market-rate and affordable apartment units nationwide, and at a time when employment gains have been spotty at best, added 550 employees. These jobs filled construction slots, to be sure, but also property and asset management positions along with marketing—this last function especially important as the firm expanded from its traditional affordable focus to market-rate.
Ranked the Number One Affordable Housing Developer by Apartment Finance Today, NRP has been known in that sector for decades. It has only been for the past six years that it has taken its expertise into the market-rate side, and today the goal is to maintain a 50/50 ratio of projects, topping out at 16 annually. “The DNA of our company is really in affordable,” says Heller. “Our employees are hardworking and passionate about healing the world. Affordable or market rate, there is that commitment to the residents.”
Naturally, for any company, P&L figures into the overall picture, and the firm also sold three of its recent market-rate projects in Texas for a total $143 million. NRP wisely uses its recently forged diversity to work the markets to its advantage. “We do see certain markets getting overbuilt and we need to shy away from certain markets as that time warrants,” says Heller. “Being involved in multiple states and various products allows us to weather any storm.”
The growth numbers and the market activity have been impressive, but Heller sees other reasons why NAHB has recognized NRP: “I think it’s because of our commitment to both affordable and market-rate product at a time when others would abandon affordable. You can’t be a great developer and not take care of the neediest in our society. This, as I said, is part of our core values. We had impressive competitors, but there’s more to life than ‘biggest’ and ‘fanciest.’ There are people who are truly in need. All aspects of our society should be able to take advantage of housing opportunity.”