NBA Legend Alonzo Mourning Is Expanding His Affordable Housing Reach
For Alonzo Mourning, home is where the heart is.
The former NBA star, a Hall of Fame center who spent the bulk of his career with the Miami Heat, has stayed in South Florida after his playing days, working as a vice president for his former team. But he has also launched and grown a nonprofit developer, AM Affordable Housing, that has delivered hundreds of new affordable apartments in the Sunshine State.
Alongside Matthew Rieger, CEO of Housing Trust Group and Mourning's business partner in the affordable housing space, Mourning's impact has grown, taking on more projects more frequently. In his community, the need has grown too.
Miami is the epicenter of the affordable housing crisis, giving the 6-foot-10, 52-year-old Virginia native an even taller order to help fix.
"I just want to come in and help the community. That's all we want to do. We don’t want to make a lot of money off of these projects," Mourning said last week at the Courtside Family Apartments in Overtown, the first housing project he co-developed with HTG, which delivered in 2016.
"The essence of what America as a whole has been started in the home," he said. "The developing of your children and family. I know for a fact I wouldn't be sitting here today had I gone without a home environment, if I didn't have a place to lay my head. These stories, especially at our program, of families being displaced, it breaks my heart because we don't have enough affordable housing.”
AM Affordable Housing and Housing Trust Group don't just build housing at the half-dozen projects they have teamed up on. They also provide free services to residents in their properties, including adult literacy and employment assistance.
At Courtside Apartments, in the historical Overtown community, residents have immediate access to programs at the Overtown Youth Center that support families with educational, health and enrichment opportunities.
In the pipeline for 2023, Mourning and Rieger will be closing on finance for Courtside Family Apartments 2 and AM Affordable Housing will complete a newly expanded Overtown Youth Center a few blocks away. Mourning developed the first Overtown Youth Center during his playing days.
In October, Mourning and Rieger started construction on the $44M Tucker Tower senior development in the Perrine neighborhood of southern Miami-Dade County.
Mourning and Rieger spoke to Bisnow last week about their projects, partnership and the ongoing affordable housing crisis.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Bisnow: Alonzo, you’ve mentioned in past interviews that launching your first affordable housing project took nearly a decade. What hurdles did you have to overcome?
Mourning: I just didn't feel a sense of urgency back from local politicians to prioritize this project. Now, since inflation, the economy has drastically changed. People are being displaced now more than ever. Local politicians that we have great relationships with, they're seeing the importance of housing. As soon as that momentum started picking up, the different help that we needed started becoming available. Also they started identifying partial properties for us to develop. It was all timing. But more importantly, now, with this huge migration, the capacity of people from all over the country coming here, it's almost like they had this epiphany that Miami is the place to be.
The mayor has done a great job of selling this place. I think both mayors have. Outside of the fact that we have favorable state tax, it is not just about the weather or the atmosphere. Everything is transitioning towards hiring folks. That's why you see a lot of deep-pocketed folks moving here and buying property, building homes and keep pushing out the locals, which is very unfortunate for their health, mobility and the economic health of these communities that are close to downtown.
Most of these folks are making around a median income of about $57K a year. It makes it difficult for them to afford these properties, and they're being pushed out. So I'm excited. I know I speak for Matt as well. We're excited. We're able to develop properties like this that are safe and clean, affordable, obviously, and centrally located to those jobs that these folks have and they do not have to transition so far to get to work and back and forth from work.
Bisnow: How did Covid play into your goals and your plans for your development? Did it affect it at all?
Mourning: To this day, it is hard to find workers, and I think it is a byproduct of Covid. I think everybody is suffering from that perspective. Trying to get people to come to work and do a good job.
Rieger: Some of those supply chain issues we're still seeing now have generated from Covid. And remember, Covid was a time, particularly the beginning of Covid, when people were being told to stay home. What about those who don't have a home, right? So you got all these people that we need to deliver units for. There's a huge waiting list here and every affordable housing property in the city of Miami, and frankly, around the country. And if the people who are on that waiting list don't have a home, where do you shelter in place?
Bisnow: How were the experiences different when developing affordable housing versus when you developed the Overtown Youth Center?
Mourning: There's no difference at all. There is a tremendous amount of similarities. It’s providing support to low-income families that are necessary. From 2003, we had this 18K SF facility and we’ve grown tremendously out of it. You think about the growth and the need there, and there is a tremendous amount of growth and need there for affordable housing.
Rieger: They are incredibly complementary. Then think about how lucky the 84 families that are here. This is a very unique and special place also because of the environmental health and wellness services.
Mourning: It pleases me to have that space so close to this historic community that has affordable housing for these families.
Bisnow: Spell out the magnitude of the problem here in South Florida. You’ve seen the housing crisis go from bad to worse. How do you see it on the front lines?
Rieger: That demand is huge. There's a huge imbalance between the supply of affordable housing units in South Florida and the demand for affordable housing units. Frankly, given the mix of times and high costs for construction, property insurance rates on the back end, you're looking at — I hate to sound pessimistic — but the perfect storm of things that make it really difficult, if not impossible, to build more affordable housing supply when the supply has never been smaller and the demand has never been greater.
Bisnow: What do you see on the horizon for you? Do you have any particular developments or particular neighborhoods you’d like to establish a footprint in?
Mourning: I have conversations with our county mayor, Mayor [Daniella Levine] Cava, and this is one of the biggest priorities on her agenda, developing affordable housing. We want to attain county property in order to develop for affordable housing. As far as projects are concerned, we have some in the pipeline, we have one outside of the Panhandle where we are going to launch in March. We want to be strategic about places and where there's greater need.
Rieger: The demand is everywhere. There was a time when I was new in this business and I used to look at a market study and say, ‘You know, can the market support 100, 120 new units?’ You don’t have to do that anymore because every market can support the additional units. Without question, a unit in Miami is a better unit in terms of supply and demand than a unit perhaps in any less population-dense area.
Mourning: We had 3,000 applicants for these 84 units here.
Rieger: Those applicants came in within a month. We didn’t advertise. People drove by and saw there was a phone number, email address, and 3,000 applications came in without one penny of advertising.
Mourning: Hopefully we get this done, but we are working on [Courtside Apartments] Phase 2, and that is 120 units and a component of that will be for seniors as well. I have no hidden agenda other than of helping. I'm not going to try to do anything that is not going to be very transparent. I just want to come in and help the community. That's all we want to do. We don’t want to make a lot of money off of these projects. That's the most important thing. Provide a safe haven. A home that fits a family's needs. That's the most rewarding and fulfilling part for us.
Bisnow: How has the recent migration of out-of-town companies and talent affected your development plans in the last two years? Has it helped get more development and government folks on board?
Rieger: Wealthy folks are coming down. Wealthy folks don't like to bus their own tables at a fancy restaurant. Wealthy folks don't like to drive their own cars to deal with the parking situations or the traffic or the valet.
Mourning: They want security in their multimillion-dollar condos. So who is going to take on those jobs? Somebody that is living miles and miles away?
Rieger: It's hard to get someone to drive an hour or two each way for $15 an hour or $12 an hour to bus tables.
Bisnow: What is AM Affordable Housing/HTG’s development take on HUD and the housing crisis?
Rieger: We believe as developers that the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and not public housing is the best solution to the affordable housing crisis, based on history. Look at where we are looking at the quality of this product. We're able to leverage public and private resources to build something of this quality. We want our residents to have this quality.
There should be no stigma attached to living in affordable housing. There is an unfortunate stigma attached to living in public housing. And frankly, the people who have been administering public housing for the last 100 years since that program was originated haven't done as good of a job as the private sector in maintaining and building something of this form. And so to me, and again all of this is opinion, I believe in quality.
I believe in making quality for the long term. And I believe in building something that has no stigma attached to it. I want my affordable development to be as nice and nicer than the market-rate development across the street.
Bisnow: I know HTG and AM Affordable Housing work in other major markets experiencing a similar housing crunch. What is in the pipeline for HTG and AM Affordable Housing in 2023?
Mourning: We're going to continue to stay busy, simply because we have a tremendous influx of folks coming to Florida on a regular basis. So they've gotten to know every piece of property where you can build homes. That need is tremendous.
A lot of people are being driven out of their apartments and what have you because these owners are raising rents, and they know that they can get what they're asking for. The families that were there before, they're like, ‘Nope, I can't afford $300, $500 more.’
Rieger: We hear it all the time from people who work for me, and these are people who make a good living, they make too much to live in affordable housing but not enough money to afford the market-rate housing, and that's what they call "the missing middle."
But I would urge your readers not to necessarily prioritize the missing middle over the affordable housing resident. Because just like in an ER, you have to perform triage, and if someone comes in with a heart attack, you don't fix the hangnail, OK?
Not to say someone who's in the missing middle is not important, that's belittling their problem, I get it. It's a tough problem. But if someone can't afford anything, or someone doesn't have a roof over their head or someone's family's got 12 people in a two-bedroom, let's solve that problem first. Let's move on to the next one, which is a real problem. We have to prioritize the greater problem first.
Bisnow: What is one policy change that would make the biggest difference in confronting the affordable housing crisis?
Rieger: The federal government has to step in. This is a problem of magnitude. We love [Miami] Mayor [Francis] Suarez. We love Mayor Levine Cava. But they don't have enough resources. And they're the mayor of the biggest city in Florida and the biggest county in Florida.
They don't have the resources. The federal government is the only body that has the resources to really make a difference in solving the affordable housing crisis. And so for some time, I have said they need to expand the program. Since 1986, the Affordable Housing Finance program has created over 3 million affordable housing units. Right now, there's a demand for 7 million more. We have a program that works. It's just not big enough. It needs to be two and a half times bigger because we need 7 million units. What I'm worried about is, while we don't have the resources, that 7 million number is going to go to eight, nine and 10. We are just getting further behind the game. We have to get ahead of it, and it's time to get ahead of it. And we have a real chance.
The last two years, where we have the Democrats in the White House and a Democratic Congress, both in the Senate and the House, and we couldn't get something done. And that's really scary to me, because it's not like that anymore. Republicans took back control of the House. We're going to spend the next two years investigating the Biden administration.
What about the people who need a roof over their heads? Stop worrying about misplaced documents — whether it was Trump or Biden — and start focusing on people who need a roof over their heads.
Mourning: We put these folks in office to serve the public. That's their No. 1 priority, to pass legislation and to help your constituents. It's as simple as that. You know, anything outside of that, you're not doing your job.
You know, the essence of what America as a whole has been started in the home. The developing of your children and family. I know for a fact I wouldn't be sitting here today had I gone without a home environment, if I didn't have a place to lay my head. That would have changed the course of my life and all the things that I've been able to accomplish.
The importance of developing safe havens, places for families to find a place to live in our country. Stories, especially at our program, of families being displaced, it breaks my heart because we don't have enough affordable housing.
CORRECTIONS, JAN. 23, 4:45 P.M. ET: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that HTG and AM Affordable Housing brought the PriceSmart Supermarket to the neighborhood. Additionally, the Courtside Family Apartments is expected to secure financing this year, not deliver, as a previous version of this story stated. This story has been updated.