AMCAL News Articles

August 15, 2013

Zoning Requirements Paralyze Affordable Housing

AMCAL Multi-Housing emerges as the affordable development leader.

Builder and Developer By Hanna Williams

With inclusionary zoning or sitespecific Conditions of Approval, more master planned developments are required to provide “affordable housing” as defined by various jurisdictions. Ensuring these units remain reserved for income-qualified families, municipalities can require between 10 and 30 percent of a development to be available as workforce housing.

Securing subsidies and funding these projects require a specific set of skills and a technical expertise that market-rate developers don’t have, and most for-sale builders don’t typically want to learn. Financing these developments also is exceedingly complicated and time sensitive. These primary hurdles dissuade most from even considering the idea.

Workforce housing is a very narrow specialty and companies like AMCAL Multi-Housing allow developers to offload the requirement to an expert with long-standing credibility with municipalities in multiple states. Arguably the second largest workforce housing developer in California, not only does AMCAL deliver the required housing units, but it allows all the other component pieces of the MPD to proceed with its own respective specialists, whether market-rate housing, retail, recreational, etc. The company typically delivers 500 doors annually and creates hundreds of local jobs.

For 25 years, AMCAL has developed quality market-rate and affordable housing. Now one of the top 30 affordable developers in the nation, during the past several years AMCAL has developed, or is on track to build, 2,800 “affordable” rental and for-sale homes across the state. Mario Turner, vice president of development, says AMCAL manages to stay on top of a dynamic marketplace with constantly changing rules while remaining sensitive to two main powers: time and money. In its narrow field, AMCAL is known as adaptable.

“Every community is different. Where funding comes from, what laws restrict it, to the area and culture that surrounds it,” said Turner. “AMCAL’s culture is driven by core values focused on quality and cost efficiency. We target each individual population and determine exactly how to tailor our development to the specific needs of that population. We don’t build buildings; we build communities.”

AMCAL fast tracks the planning and entitlement process via its vertical integration. With in-house acquisition, development, finance, asset management, and construction expertise, it generates efficiencies and cost savings to benefit the workforce-housing component. AMCAL optimizes success of every project through tight controls on both cost and quality.

Currently, AMCAL is working on a 60 home affordable development in the first phase of Lennar’s project in Hunters Point Shipyard—a massive former naval base in San Francisco.

“Before Lennar approached us, the creators were planning on just building the development and selling it at a reduced rate for income-qualified residents,” said Craig Adelman, vice president of Northern California. “Our partnership presented this leading national builder with not only a more cost-effective solution, but also a product that is more efficient and better meets the community’s needs.”

AMCAL positions itself as an inclusionary zoning specialist. At AMCAL, “affordable” never means less. From land acquisition to design, to coordination with municipalities to final construction, AMCAL communities look and feel like market-rate developments, largely due to its experience as a market-rate housing developer. It understands the priorities of market-rate developers, as well as the niche of “affordable” housing.

But it’s not just business for AMCAL. The company takes social responsibility beyond affordable housing. They have also developed a deep partnership with the non-profit LifeSTEPS. AMCAL / LifeSTEPS residents are entitled to several social services and can access various community programs including childcare, career development, and neighborhood watch.

“For AMCAL, it comes down to quality, value, alignment, and stability,” said Adelman. “Building a quality product that adds to the value of the community, meets the needs of the business partnership, and is, in all aspects, efficient. There are often preconceived notions about what affordable housing means. It is our job to really get people to embrace these developments and really recognize that not only are they great investments for the areas, but they are stabilize and enhance their communities as well.”

Hanna Williams is a market researcher and blogger at iHAVE5 Questions. She can be reached at

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