He started the presentation with the words, “Friends, we have housing affordability crisis in America today.” It was then I knew something was different, and I needed to know how. Afterwards, I went up to ask Tony if he would have coffee with me and tell me about his new ideas. “Of course,” he said, “but can we walk and talk, instead of just sitting?” Now I’m thinking, there is a story to uncover. Then he handed me some notes from his conversation and said it would be most beneficial if I were to review some data prior to our meeting. Our appointment time had come, and indeed I had researched some of the hard, national facts he spoke about.
Tony Bonitati spent this last decade brokering apartments in the Carolinas. The decade prior, he was a Regional Sales Manager for Equifax/TALX Workforce Solutions selling third party outsourced services to large employers. He started his journey decades ago learning about real estate at an early age. Born in the Northeast, he ventured west for college. With Real Estate aspirations, he resided in Arizona, California, Texas, and Florida before moving to Greenville in 2006. He recognized something in this area of the country that he had seen before: a beautiful place to live, with endless possibilities for growth. “The I-85 corridor became my selling feature,” said Tony. The multifamily division he started back in 2010 for NAI Earle Furman had one goal; to bring new investors to this market. Many of their transactions had an out-of-state buyer expanding in the Carolinas. The strategy paid off. The multifamily team sold over a half a billion dollars’ worth of apartments and development land in about eight years. During those days, with the help of his team and the firm, Tony became an expert in most of the cities/markets throughout North and South Carolina. Then, after years of success, something was changing. Perhaps the changes happening in the housing market were only temporary? As a parent of two “millennial” children, Tony began to see the plight of the younger generation, coupled with the millions of people nationwide of all ages, who simply could no longer afford a place to live. Rents had risen much faster than wages. Plus, even if you had the money, it seemed we did not have enough homes to buy or rent. “Was I part of the problem?”
He thought, “What if I were to combine these last two careers into one – selling outsourced Employer Housing services to employers?” A new service was born. After some national research, and asking professionals for their input, it became clear this niche was not being served. “With the NAI Global platform, and offices throughout the country, we could combine local expertise with a national presence,” Tony said.
So that brings us to Commercial Housing Solutions. While meeting periodically with CEO Jon Good, they discussed different paths and directions as the firm continued its growth. “It was one of the best ideas I’ve heard in years,” said Jon Good after a meeting they had in late summer. Not just talking about a list of solutions, but actually “solving” housing affordability. There seems to be a news article everyday about the problem. Now, this division will aim to solve it. “Employer Housing seemed like a natural place to start,” Tony said. Our Carolina history includes many still visible examples of old textile mills and the surrounding mill villages. “We will take our national, historical best practices and modernize it the current workforce,” Tony continued. In other words, it’s not enough to just give someone a place to live. “We want to increase first time buyer homeownership,” Tony said.
To be honest, my first thought was how does employer-sponsored housing do that? Tony said, “Simple. Phase one is to significantly reduce rents and remove the cost burden of transportation. Phase two is the best part…building entry level single family homes in close proximity within the affordability of the wages at the employer. Our approach will be both short term and long term, providing a temporary affordable housing fix, with permeant housing development for ownership. As a result, we will help employers with recruitment and productively, by helping their employee improve their standard of living.
When someone’s rent is greater than 40% of their salary, that’s the definition of an affordable housing crisis. With unemployment so low and the demand for skilled workers so high, employers need to think proactively. For years, hiring managers and human resource departments have let the whims of the market dictate how much salary gets consumed by area rents. So, we exist to help employers create a win/win for their employer-employee relations.”
Sounds fine, but how will Commercial Housing Solutions be able to succeed if it is so costly to build these days? “Great question. We use a creative approach to bring specialized options to each client we serve. Every opportunity will be different but our mission remains the same: to bring affordable living arrangements to employers and their employees.”
Is employer housing the only service Commercial Housing Solutions provides? “No. Our goal is to increase the number of affordable places people can live. Repurposing obsolete spaces (such as vacant stores, industrial buildings, and parking lots) into thriving new mixed-use developments is another focus of our long-term vision.” Tony Bonitati is the founder of Commercial Housing Solutions and author of the forthcoming book Radical Housing Solutions.
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