ELDI would be nothing without our dedicated staff members who work tirelessy every day to realize the community’s vision of a vibrant, mixed-income community. Today we are taking a moment to spotlight our director of real estate development, Jonathan Huck. Jonathan has been working at ELDI since 2019. With more than 15 years of experience working with Community Development Corporations and in real estate, his expertise is a huge asset to our organization.
Get to know more about Jonathan and his role within our organization in our Q&A below.
To start, can you tell us a little about your background and why you wanted to get into this line of work?
When I quickly realized in my youth that being a goalie in the NHL wasn’t in the cards, construction was my next main interest. That evolved by the end of college into an appreciation for main street development (apartments over retail) which I later came to understand was rooted in my personal experience with the walkability of my campus and college town. I earned a master’s in civil engineering thanks to Pitt, but my undergrad experience and love for main streets comes from, and loyalty belongs to, Penn State. Right after college, I got to spend some time building homes with and playing ice hockey with the Amish (yes, they play!) in Lancaster, PA before working my way back home to Pittsburgh and moving from construction into the challenges of real estate development. Eventually, I volunteered, interned, and worked in community development on the Northside at the Northside Leadership Conference where I spent 15 years before taking advantage of this excellent opportunity here at ELDI.
What does your day-to-day look like?
My day-to-day involves a mix of focusing on the details of a development project, from keying in on acquisition opportunities, attracting and closing on financing, plus managing construction, marketing, and sales, to the bigger picture, administrative efforts of identifying the next strategic development priorities, projecting project management and construction capacity, plus planning long term cash flow. Mix that in with the collegial atmosphere of the office and productive collaboration with our project partners, the day easily flies by.
What are you working on at the moment and how does it fit within ELDI’s larger mission to realize the community’s vision of a vibrant, mixed-income community?
The initial reason that I was hired was to execute the construction and cash flow of 26 homes in ELDI’s first New Markets Tax Credits development deal, a deal that they closed the first week that I started and involved Dollar Bank and the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh. After two and half years, we have completed and sold 16 of the 26, with two others under agreement, four more about to hit the market, one under construction, and actively getting bids on the three remaining homes. We easily hit the financing deadlines and project goals of selling at least six affordable homes with another two to four also aimed at that affordable price point (affordable to those earning under 80% Area Median Income). The others have been sold at a range of market-rate prices. We have also spent a fair amount of time restructuring the financing of and completing the construction on three significantly affordable homes financed by the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Homeownership Program, thanks to our partnership with First Commonwealth Bank. Both of these projects leverage creative financing to generate affordable and market-rate homeownership opportunities, contributing towards the creation of a vibrant, mixed-income community.
What is the most challenging part of the job?
It’s all a challenge, hence why there’s limited private development of affordable homeownership opportunities, but it is easily rewarding work. There’s plenty of work to be done, as it took decades to get here and will take time to redirect momentum, so like one of my first mentors shared, pace yourself.
What is the most rewarding part?
Creating affordable homeownership opportunities, turning blight from a liability into an asset, solving the financing puzzles of a development deal, plus crafting and executing a strategic real estate development effort are all rewarding components.
What do you wish more people understood about community development?
My hope is that more people come to understand that real estate development is a vital component of community development. To improve one’s neighborhood, you must control the real estate. While there is some risk, it’s admirable risk. There are many levels of success for a project, and ultimately no bank wants the PR of foreclosing on a community-driven project, so they’ll find every which way to make a deal work. Let me also add that I once heard another mentor state the following that sticks with me, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”
What’s it like to work at ELDI?
Let me start by reiterating Shivam’s statement in a previous article that the office is like a community development lab where creativity is encouraged since resources are limited and challenges abound. It’s fascinating to work with such a skilled team. Everyone brings a little something different to the table and it truly demonstrates that the sum is greater than the parts.
To close, what’s your favorite spot or thing about East Liberty?
My favorite spots unsurprisingly involve food: Bird On The Run, Choolaah, and Slice on Broadway (I highly recommend the chicken bbq pizza and add the hot honey syrup!).