Columbia Residential

Developing and managing multifamily affordable housing communities has been Columbia Residential’s specialty since 1991. As the Atlanta-based company has expanded – forming Columbia Residential Management Group in 1996 and Columbia Residential Construction Management Services in 1997 – it has grown into a full-service organization with an array of capabilities and services.

“We are known for our design and construction quality and our ability to mix affordable and market-rate housing into developments,” President and COO Jim Grauley says. “We work on public-private partnerships that revitalize neighborhoods, and we are adept at the construction, financing and property management of mixed-income communities.”

No Fear

The company’s focus has traditionally been on mixed-income affordable housing developments, although it also seeks out senior housing projects and gets involved with some projects that are purely market rate, too. A leading developer of affordable housing in Georgia over the past 10 years, Columbia Residential has also developed properties in Louisiana and Texas for its portfolio.

Columbia Residential excels at seeking out locations that are underserved by the housing industry. The company does this by creating partnerships with nonprofits, community development corporations, financial institutions, governmental bodies and public housing authorities.

“We look at everything from a long-term view,” Vice President of Development Operations Ray Kuniansky says. “We aren’t developers that look to sell in three to five years. We are owners for 25 years.”

The company is not afraid of venturing into what Kuniansky called “pioneering locations.” During the last decade, Columbia Residential has been involved with a series of partnerships with various housing authorities on property redevelopments that haven’t always been in prime areas attracting new development.

“These are often pioneering locations for redevelopment, and we pursue projects others often overlook,” Kuniansky says. “We are demonstrating that we can have success in these areas while addressing our needs, our partners’ needs and the community’s needs.”

Green Thumb

The company says it has been ahead of its regional competitors in sustainability and energy efficiency. Columbia Residential began building Energy Star-certified projects more than a decade ago, and moved to building LEED- and EarthCraft-certified projects in the last five years.

According to Grauley, there are three legs to Columbia Residential’s sustainability stool. The first is a commitment to green building because it is a good business practice and the right thing to do. Next, it is an advantage in the public-private partnership environment. Finally, customers benefit because they end up with homes that contribute to affordable living by virtue of lower operating costs.

“Thus far, we have completed three LEED Silver-level projects, and we have six others underway that will get LEED or EarthCraft certification,” Grauley says. “Two of those projects will be LEED Gold. In our region, we are industry leaders in terms of sustainable affordable construction.”

Columbia Residential takes a thoughtful approach to sustainable design and construction. The company believes that its commitment to green building has improved its project development processes. On the property management side, it is actively educating residents about how to use green technology in their homes and live more sustainably. The ultimate benefit is seen when projects are complete and what were once distressed communities become healthy, mixed-income and sustainable communities that are attractive and growing.

Fruits of the Labor

Two projects that exemplify everything that Columbia Residential stands for are Columbia Parc at the Bayou District in New Orleans and the Baker Village/Arbor Pointe project in Columbus, Ga.

Columbia Parc is located about three miles north of downtown New Orleans. It was a 52-acre, 1,400-apartment location that had been built in the 1940s and fallen into disrepair and dysfunction prior to being ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Columbia Residential was brought in to work with the housing authority and the city on a different approach, building a mixed-income community that holds residents to high standards and expectations. It is the largest neighborhood redevelopment project in New Orleans since Katrina.

“By the end of the year, will have about 700 homes built there, and we are integrating educational facilities within walking distance of the site,” Grauley explains. “It is also one of the largest LEED-certified developments in the country. We’ve done a lot of work with previous residents so they had opportunities to come back while also trying to attract new residents.”

When the property is complete in 2015, it will include about 1,300 mixed-income housing units, three schools, a YMCA recreational facility, neighborhood retail and commercial space, and golf facilities.

As for the Arbor Pointe community, it is a multiphase redevelopment of what was the Baker Village public housing site near Fort Benning’s main gate in South Columbus, Ga. All existing buildings were demolished and new infrastructure has been built. The first two phases of the property wrapped up in 2009 and 2010, each consisting of 148 units. The development made use of technology for security, stormwater management and energy conservation in compliance with the EnergyStar program, and met EarthCraft requirements, as well.

After completing the first two phases, Columbia Residential and its partner, the Housing Authority of Columbus, Ga., began looking at ways to incorporate senior housing into the area. For example, as part of a revised master plan, the third phase of the project took 14 acres for cottage-style senior housing.

“The neighborhood includes retail, commercial and public facilities, and it has a mixed-income population,” Kuniansky says. “The project has been accepted by the community, and it is helping to move this part of the city in a positive direction.”

Columbia Residential has a solid pipeline of new developments, and it will soon be engaging in another large redevelopment in Columbus as well as a large transformative project in Athens, Ga. The company is also looking to carefully spread its geographic reach, expand its work in senior housing and selectively choose market rate-specific projects. But mixed income and sustainability will continue to be the factors that define Columbia Residential.

“We are flexible, and I like our position,” Grauley says. “Our country is moving toward more connectivity within communities, and our urban focus fits well with the direction of the market. We create solutions for our public-sector partners, and we figure out how to solve their financial challenges and then build quality properties.”

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