Preserving for Affordability

Category: Community, Development, News

The Commonwealth Companies is a vertically integrated real estate developer and property manager creating affordable housing throughout the country. The firm executes creative reuse to preserve and breathe new life into historic properties.

Established in 2001, the Commonwealth Companies maintains a robust portfolio of 5,850 affordable housing units spanning 14 states. In addition to its listing development and management teams, the firm also has a construction company, Commonwealth Construction, and an architectural design company, M+A Design, Inc. that work on many of its internal projects.

The firm, headquartered in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, is in the midst of several noteworthy developments in the Upper Midwest. These ongoing projects reflect the larger opportunities available to the firm’s team.

“We are seeing a lot of great opportunities in many different areas, and we definitely can’t keep up with the demand” says Kevin McDonell, Vice President of Development for the Great Lakes Region at the Commonwealth Companies. “The need for affordable housing seems to be hitting a breaking point, which is generating a lot of positive discussions from communities recognizing the value of providing workforce and senior housing. This has also led to the proposal of additional affordable housing nationally and we are seeing local stakeholders committing significant resources to address the challenges.”

Expanding presence

The Commonwealth Companies serves markets in the Midwest, Southwest, Southeast and Northwest, with an eye on expansion. The firm recently hired a tax credit consultant, Jonathan Nesburg, to help it begin the process of establishing a presence in Michigan.

“We are very excited to add him on to the team and get some boots on the ground to focus on the state of Michigan,” McDonell says.

The use of locally based development professionals allows the Commonwealth Companies to rapidly and effectively ramp up its presence in the markets it serves.

“When we go out to new markets, we know we are not experts in each state so we try to bring in a team of consultants and professionals who have experience in those states to help make the transition as smooth as possible,” McDonell says.

Working with locally based professionals makes for a highly efficient development process.

“We are a very development-orientated company,” McDonell says. “When our executive-level management team is looking to expand into new states, they realize that the developers they bring in must have that local knowledge.”

The Commonwealth Companies uses a unique approach for each market it enters to best serve the needs of the local community and its residents.

“The more states we get into, the more we learn that every state is a little different,” says McDonell. “We cannot take one model that’s working in one state and totally transfer that into other states and expect it to work the same.”

Ongoing efforts

The Commonwealth Companies has several developments in Indiana and Wisconsin that exemplify its creative reuse of historic properties and dedication to creating quality affordable housing.

It is currently wrapping up construction of the Fourteen91 Lofts in Muncie, Indiana. The property is on the site of a former Chevrolet manufacturing facility and trade school. The new community features 36 units of affordable housing adapted out of a historic school administration building.

The Fourteen91 Lofts also include 35 lease-to-own townhomes designed to stabilize the area with higher homeownership rates.

In the northeast corner of Indiana, the Commonwealth Companies recently completed development on Little Crow Lofts.

“It’s a historic adaptive reuse project of the former Little Crow Foods facility,” McDonell says.

Little Crow Lofts, located in the city of Warsaw, brought 42 units of workforce housing to the city through a $8.4 million redevelopment effort.

In Elkhart, Indiana, the Commonwealth Companies recently finished up Gardenview Senior Apartments.

“That project is another historic adaptive reuse where we converted the former Conn-Selmer band instrument factory into an apartment community for seniors,” McDonell says. “The building is especially unique because the city of Elkhart is the band instrument capital of the world—and has been for a long time.”

Gardenview Senior Apartments includes 55 units of affordable housing. Elkhart, a city near the vibrant college town of South Bend, is also the center of northeast Indiana’s Amish community.

Also in Indiana, the company is starting development on two upcoming efforts: the redevelopment of a former YMCA into 40 units of affordable housing in Terre Haute and a townhome development in Edinburgh.

In its home state of Wisconsin, the Commonwealth Companies has two more communities in the works. One is Friar House Flats, a 40 unit community near downtown Green Bay. The historic Friary building will host half of the units, while the others will consist of new construction.

In West Bend, the firm is developing the Barton School Apartments, converting the former Barton Elementary School into 40 units of affordable housing, including 18 townhomes.

Throughout all these efforts, Commonwealth Companies’ adaptability and flexibility allow it to serve communities of all sizes.

“We work in a lot of different types of municipalities. We are working in larger urban areas and we’re working in small, rural cities, as well,” McDonell says. “We see a broad view of every different type of community out there.”

This article was published in the Fall 2018 Edition of Affordable Housing News (Pgs. 57-59)