NYUSPS Schack Institute Adjunct Instructor Richard Ross got his start in real estate on Wall Street. While working at Bank of America in the 1990s, Ross became involved with nonprofit boards, which piqued his interest in affordable housing. He moved to Community Development within Bank of America, lending to affordable housing projects. That work led him to a role as the president of SoBRO’s bank that lends to small businesses, and as the head of SoBRO’s real estate development. SoBRO is a nonprofit organization that focuses on economic investment and development in the South Bronx.
Today, he teaches affordable housing and multifamily finance, and manages a consulting business that helps for-profit developers understand how to finance affordable housing. Schack sat down with Ross to discuss his work, and New York City’s affordable housing landscape.
Schack: Can you tell me about your background in real estate, and how you got involved with it and the finance side?
Ross: My background is in Wall Street. I started working out for FINRA (formerly NASD) as an examiner. Then I worked with Bank of America, starting out in risk management and volunteering on various nonprofit boards, and that got me interested in affordable housing. I asked to move to Community Development within Bank of America.
S: What was that like, coming from a straight finance background?
R: That was great. I got a chance to see the operations of affordable housing—how they were financed, the type of people that worked in that industry, so I found out about affordable housing developers specifically.
I wanted to learn more about the industry from a hands-on standpoint. I’m from the Bronx, and one of my board members at the nonprofit I was volunteering with at worked at SoBRO, and they had a community development bank that needed a new president, and they also did affordable housing development. I made the leap [to] SoBRO in 2000. From SoBro I went to work for a for-profit development, called Cottage International Development Group.
S: As the city has become so expensive, must be very interesting to see how affordable housing has developed in NYC now versus 2000.
R: Oh it exploded. There are so many more tools available now than back in 2000, and specialized programs such as senior citizen housing, which is affordable, former offender housing, [and things like] housing for specifically grandparents and those taking care of their grandchildren.
S: Do you think that grouping has benefits?
R: My answer is mixed. For certain populations, like seniors, I think it’s good to be grouped together since there’s a lot of medical and counseling services that come with seniors, and a counselor can hit many households at once. Or you can have project-based services that are available on site.
But in regard to just lower-income folks, now the model is to mix the incomes—50-30-20s and 80-20s, and it’s good to have that mix. It makes for hopefully a more diverse social environment.
New York City is probably one of the best areas to develop affordable because we just keep increasing the financing programs out of HPD that are available.