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Public and Private Opportunities in Opportunity Zones

Governors have submitted designations for Opportunity Zones as part of a new federal incentive program that promotes real estate and business investments in high poverty neighborhoods by favorably taxing capital gains. This new incentive creates a substantial opportunity to direct much-needed capital into distressed areas, but big questions still remain regarding how the program can and should be used to achieve critical economic development goals.
In conversations with our clients, we sensed considerable curiosity and interest about this new investment vehicle, and its ability to promote growth and opportunity in communities that desperately need new investment. We thought it would be helpful to provide insight on opportunities and challenges that should be considered when using this tool.

What are Opportunity Zones?

Established in December’s rewrite of federal tax law, the program is still in its initial stages of implementation, and federal regulations are still pending. But the broad strokes are simple, taxpayers can defer paying capital gains taxes by investing those gains into Opportunity Funds, which invest equity into businesses and property within Opportunity Zones – low-income census tracts designated by each state’s Governor and subject to approval by the IRS.

An Incentive that Plays Well with Others

In its current form, nothing precludes investors and local governments from mixing existing incentives, like New Market Tax Credits, Historic Tax Credits, or Low-Income Housing Tax Credits with investments through an Opportunity Fund. Additionally, Opportunity Funds appear to be very flexible in terms of eligible investments, including real estate, infrastructure, affordable housing, or even a new transit extension. While there could be future guidance offered on this topic, public and private community development professionals should consider Opportunity Funds as a uniquely-flexible new tool in their financing toolbox.

Local Government at the Helm

Cities won’t be the only places with Opportunity Zones, but as leaders of the movement to create smarter, efficient, and better monitored place-based revitalization, they are particularly well-positioned. Cities can guide the direction of this new source of investment capital to address multiple bottom line objectives by:

  • Establishing their own Opportunity Funds
  • Using Opportunity Funds to support long-term development strategies
  • Focusing new investment in affordable housing, infrastructure, and small business development to catalyze long-term community and economic development goals.


Thinking Equitably: Early and Often

This program was designed with investors in mind, and its success will depend on whether they consider the risk of investing in a distressed area worth the reward. Already, cities like Cleveland are seeing nominations of census tracts in quickly gentrifying areas of the city, where arguably development would have continued without the use of any new public incentive.
However, it is extremely important to the health and sustainability of a city’s economy to ensure residents and businesses in Opportunity Zones receive balanced benefits from this investment without the threat of involuntary displacement. Nothing in the Opportunity Zones legislation provides protection against speculation and runaway gentrification.  Cities will need to carefully monitor the pace and character of change in Opportunity Zones and have policies and programs in place to ensure that existing residents and small businesses share in the benefits of revitalization. These may include targeted hiring and small business participation programs, initiatives that remove barriers to workforce participation, flexible loan programs, and capital directed to new housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income households.
While there are many outstanding questions about this provision of the Tax Act will translate into new investment in distressed areas, it isn’t too soon for investors and public and private economic development professionals to think creatively about using it. What other opportunities do you see in Opportunity Zones? For more information, contact Paul Silvern in HR&A’s Los Angeles office.

How Should Cities Set Goals to Address Housing Affordability?

Housing affordability is on everyone’s mind, especially in cities. Rents are rising faster than incomes, housing production has not kept up with demand, and, in many cities, more and more households are rent burdened – spending more than 30% of their income on housing.
As stewards of local housing policy, local governments are the key to providing solutions to combat the challenges of an affordability crisis. By enacting proactive preservation and development policies for affordable housing, local governments can stem associated issues like displacement and disproportionate inaccessibility to transit, employment hubs, and neighborhood amenities for lower income residents.


As population loss slows and new buildings rise, Detroit is beginning to see signs of recovery and growth. But, new investment and rising housing prices have also created pressure on housing affordability. And, while average housing costs in Detroit are lower than in other markets, 57% of renters pay more than 30% of their income toward housing.
In other areas of the city, decades of disinvestment have left neighborhoods without urban amenities, and a regulated affordable housing stock at risk of obsolescence or loss of affordability.
The City has proactively pursued affordable housing transactions and has begun implementing policy to support its objectives, but it did not have a formalized strategy for pursuing policies and programs to realize its equitable growth goals. HR&A worked with the City to develop a strategy for tackling affordability by preserving and developing 12,000 units of affordable housing by 2023.
To address these and similar affordable housing challenges cites can create a affordability strategy in five steps:


The City designed the strategy to meet two main goals: ensure rising housing costs are met with the creation of new affordable housing, and that investment in key neighborhoods includes preservation of existing affordable housing.
Guided by our analysis of the local housing market and proposed affordable housing policy, the City recognized an opportunity to expand initiatives to preserve a greater share of already affordable housing stock, including naturally occurring affordable housing, while encouraging modest growth of new affordable units. It quantified these goals into concrete targets of preserving 10,000 units of affordable housing and developing 2,000 new units by 2023, which will help the city determine resource needs and provide a metric to measure success.

Detroit Multifamily Affordable Housing Strategy Roadmap


To accomplish these goals, the City needed to ensure it could point to specific actions and outcomes that will propel growth and preservation, and also identify adequate measurements of successful implementation.
Prioritization & Planning
Based on identified local challenges, overall City goals, and the availability of existing and new resources, we confirmed the affordable housing priorities of the City and established a plan for implementation. This process clarified the City’s goals and led to both the development of policies and initiatives that would drive toward these and reinforced the level of accountability that could be provided through a plan like this one.
Policies that Work for the Local Market
The specific challenges of Detroit’s local market required the City to identify state and local policies that would leverage limited resources for funding new affordable housing and prioritize strategies that preserved affordable housing for existing Detroiters. While strategies such as an Affordable Housing Trust Fund have been successful in many cities, Detroit’s approach, including the creation of an Affordable Housing Leverage Fund (AHLF), creates a targeted tool for accomplishing key affordable housing projects within the city, and allows the City team to drive toward its goals, even in the face of dwindling public funding. Other strategies, such as the prioritization and use of publicly-owned land, leverage Detroit’s unique assets to accomplish key housing goals. HR&A supported the City team in identifying strong precedents and crafting the Detroit-specific approach to these tools.
Staying Accountable
As with any good strategy, the City set measurable goals and defined actions for implementation within a defined timeframe. The City of Detroit will undertake the actions identified in the strategy through 2023, at which point it can evaluate the efficacy of specific initiatives or programs and reevaluate goals based on evolving market and policy conditions in the City.


HR&A was founded with the mission to continue the reinvention of cities into vibrant urban centers that offer jobs and a high quality of life for diverse communities. Supporting equitable, affordable housing and the development of mixed-income communities is a key priority for ensuring our cities stay diverse and promote a higher quality of life. From our economic development strategies to real estate advisory work, HR&A embeds this mission into every engagement with our clients.

If you are a city leader or advocate interested in how HR&A can build an affordable housing strategy for your city, or would like to hear more about HR&A’s work on the Detroit Multifamily Affordable Housing Study, please reach out to Stan Wall, Philip Kash, or Olivia Moss, we’d love to hear from you.

Imagine Boston 2030 Wins Comprehensive Planning Award

The Imagine Boston 2030 plan was honored with the 2017 comprehensive planning award by the American Planning Association’s Massachusetts chapter. This is the city’s first comprehensive plan in fifty years, and sets the agenda for future growth, investment, and development in Boston.
Starting in 2015, HR&A and Utile Architecture and Planning worked with a dedicated team of city leaders, designers, and planners to understand the needs of Boston’s residents, businesses, and government – and create actions and programs to address goals of affordable housing, transit accessibility, economic growth, and more.
Under the direction of Mayor Martin J. Walsh and refined by the input of over 14,000 community members, this plan will enhance and preserve Boston’s historic communities while accommodating long-term population and job growth. The final Imagine Boston 2030 plan, launched in 2017, articulates how priority actions and initiatives will be funded, led, and measured to ensure success.
Learn more about our work to create a strong, equitable future for the City of Boston.
We’re thankful and humbled to see this plan receive the highest level of recognition from APA Massachusetts. We founded this firm to continue the reinvention of cities into vibrant urban centers that offer jobs and a high quality of life for diverse communities and are committed to working with more cities to shape the actions and strategies that will promote their long-term economic health.

To learn more about how comprehensive citywide planning can set the stage for inclusive growth in your city, please contact Partner Jamie Torres Springer.

Mayors Helping Mayors Rebuild Puerto Rico

In the aftermath of a vicious hurricane season, the island of Puerto Rico continues to endure a vast humanitarian crisis. An estimated $95 billion in damage has displaced nearly 1.1 million Puerto Ricans from their homes, accelerated ongoing mass migration to the mainland United States, and driven Puerto Rico further into social, political, and economic uncertainty.


In the absence of reliable and sustained state and federal assistance, the island’s municipalities have led the local response to the crisis. This period of long-term disaster recovery marked by regular power and water outages, and ever-changing federal and state guidance on requests for assistance – is also marked by extreme shortfalls in municipal revenues. Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, which predates the 2017 hurricane season but was compounded by it, has left its cities with an estimated $350 million budget shortfall that is expected to grow in the coming fiscal year.


Still, mayors across the island must both address the immediate needs of the residents of their cities while also addressing their long-term physical and economic development priorities. They are tasked with responding to ongoing humanitarian needs while developing a future vision for their cities and their local economies. And, they too often do so in isolation.

A New Model for Partnership

To support mayors on the frontlines, HR&A is assisting Open Society Foundations’ launch of a first-of-its-kind mayoral exchange pairing mayors from Puerto Rico with mayors from the mainland United States to exchange ideas and lessons from their own disaster recovery efforts.
The exchange provides peer-to-peer disaster recovery and strategic planning support to Puerto Rican cities, and will help raise the profile of the crisis facing the island on the mainland. It also enables mainland mayors to build long-term relationships with their Puerto Rican counterparts, as they learn about the innovative ways in they’ve lead relief and recovery efforts under extreme fiscal and political pressure. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is chairing the Mayor Exchange, along with Puerto Rico Mayors Pedro García Figueroa of Hormigueros and Javier Jiménez Pérez of San Sebastián and Open Society Foundations President Patrick Gaspard.

– Mayor Mitch Landrieu


Lessons from Our Own Recovery

As disasters become more frequent and severe, cities are learning to deal with the complexities and challenges of recovery. Mayors from New Orleans, Miami, and Houston, to name a few, have gained valuable first-hand experience through the intricate process of rebuilding while planning for a new reality with more frequent and more devastating storm events.
To fulfill the vision of the Open Society Foundations and Mayor Landrieu, HR&A leveraged its experience in resilience planning and program design to design a two-part program:

  1. A mayor exchange
  2. In-depth technical assistance workshops focused on disaster recovery, fiscal health, and economic development.


Mayors on the mainland will meet their Puerto Rican counterparts through visits to the island and provide information on accessing recovery assistance, and consultation on humanitarian, fiscal, and rebuilding challenges. By the end of this program, mayors of Puerto Rico will have the most relevant knowledge of policy, planning, and finance tools to aid their local recovery efforts, with the added benefit of a network of mayors advocating for Puerto Rico’s recovery on a national stage.

The Power of Governance

HR&A designs and delivers programs to build knowledge and capacity for real government practice change. We leverage partnerships to tackle a wide range of urban challenges, from population growth and potential displacement, to the impacts of climate change. Our strong project management skills, policy development leadership, and in-depth knowledge of government enable us to provide the best advisory services to support government decision-making.

If you are a city leader or influencer in search of strategic support to develop a long-term economic development vision and strategy for your city, we’d like to hear from you. To learn more about how we can help convert your city’s challenges into opportunities to create an equitable future, email Andrea Batista Schlesinger.

New Partners, Fresh Perspective

We are delighted to announce the promotions to Partner of our valued colleagues, Judith Taylor and Kate Wittels. Judith and Kate are exceptional leaders who bring commitment, imagination, and knowledge to the evolving challenges of urban development. Each has been essential in managing our most challenging work to date.


We are thrilled to expand our partnership,  grow our real estate practice on the West Coast, and enhance our focus on the impact of technology on the future of work.

– John Alschuler, Chairman

Judith expanded HR&A’s real estate advisory services throughout the West Coast as a Principal in our Los Angeles office. With fifteen years of real estate experience, she advises clients on the delivery of development projects that help activate the core of our cities. In California, where cities are investing substantially in transportation networks, Judith assists transit agencies and developers in maximizing the impact of new transit investment through station-area and corridor plans that deliver quality housing, jobs, retail, and entertainment.

Kate works with governments, developers, and businesses to grow tech and innovation ecosystems in cities around the world. She’s developed strategic plans, public-private partnerships, and programs that leverage technology to create the districts, workforces, and economies of the future. As a Partner, Kate is focused on the future of work. She creates strategies to shape places, train people, and deliver infrastructure as today’s cities prepare to capture tomorrow’s opportunities through technological innovation.

We are excited to welcome Judith and Kate as Partners as we continue to help our clients make cities engines of innovation, growth, inclusion, and fairness.


To learn more about how Judith and Kate’s work in Urban Tech and Transit-Oriented Communities can address challenges in your city, please email us.

Corridor-wide TOD Planning in Los Angeles

The West Santa Ana Branch (WSAB) transit line is a planned 20-mile transit line extending from Downtown Los Angeles to the cities of Cerritos and Artesia.  The proposed line extends through heavily industrial areas as well as areas characterized by auto-oriented, suburban development.  It passes through 14 southeast Los Angeles cities and county jurisdictions, many of which are low to moderate -income, predominantly Hispanic communities, with a number of diverse, optimistic visions for the future of their communities. As part of a Corridor Wide TOD Implementation Plan, HR&A is developing a holistic land use and economic revitalization strategy for the 15 stations and 14 communities along the line.


Principal Judith Taylor, HR&A’s project manager for this assignment, shares her insights on the future of the WSAB line and how HR&A is setting these communities up for success.


1. How does this project differ from a typical TOD project?

This is an innovative project from LA Metro – the first of its kind. A traditional TOD project only looks at the immediate station. Our team’s goal is to perform an integrated analysis that encompasses the 14 communities along the WSAB line. We are planning at the corridor level to ensure the whole area functions congruently. Rather than being in competition with one another, each station area and their surrounding communities can be positioned to complement one another.


2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing corridor-wide vs individual station area TOD studies?

The biggest advantage of a corridor-wide strategy is the opportunity for collaboration among the cities and jurisdictions. By working together, communities are able to understand how they fit within the broader region and how they can better capitalize on their strengths. However, there is no “one size fits all” solution. Many of the cities are in different stages with varying capacities for development, so we need to take this diversity into account as we create the tools and strategies each city can use to implement their plans. The success of this project will be defined by each of the cities translating the toolkits we develop into policy instruments that advance their implementation goals.


3. The Metro West Santa Ana branch project is built through a heavy industrial area, how has this affected analysis?

There are locations along the line that wish to remain industrial and it is our goal to understand how they integrate into the ecosystem of the other stations. We are examining what transit means for the employers in these heavily industrial areas so we can encourage connectivity and mobility between workers and industry. The integration of active transportation for pedestrians and bikes are a priority along the corridor, particularly in places such as the industrial areas where very little of such infrastructure exists. For example, some residents may prefer to commute via bike, so we are exploring how to best incorporate bike paths with roads that accommodate trucks and heavy machinery.


4. How will this study help Metro and the municipalities along the corridor adjust for the risks that new investment can present for existing communities that transit is ostensibly built to help? How does equity shape HR&A’s approach in this case?

We are working to ensure the tools and strategies we develop for these cities support equity, affordable housing, workforce training, and diverse economic opportunities for residents. We are also taking measures to educate the cities about the potentially transformative effects of new transit, so they have an opportunity to anticipate changes. Even though this strategy may not be fully implemented for another 25 years, it is important that the cities think and plan ahead to maximize the positive impacts of future transit access in their communities


5. This is a massive regional project, what are the plans and timeline for implementation?

Over the past several months, WSAB has become a regional priority. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has added this project to his “28 by 28” agenda that outlines 28 key transportation projects that are to be prioritized before the 2028 Olympics. Also, the WSAB’s arrival to Downtown aligns with many of the improvements that are needed to integrate light and heavy rail systems seamlessly into a 21st century mobility hub.

New York Tech Is Thriving

In New York, tech is serious business. Over the past 10 years, NYC’s tech scene has grown from a cluster of successful startups into a verifiable tech hub, and a vital part of New York’s economy. New York employers are rapidly adding tech jobs while landlords are leasing out bigger and bigger spaces to giants like Google, Facebook, WeWork, and Amazon. To profile New York’s phenomenal growth, we revisited our 2014 study and identified where the tech industry is growing and who it’s employing. The 2017 update found:


  • The tech ecosystem employs 326,000 people and has grown 30% since 2006
  • Since 2010, tech companies have bought or leased more than 9 million square feet of space
  • Since 2006, New York has raised $43.6 billion in VC funds, second only to Silicon Valley
  • New York’s tech companies specialize in B2B, Consumer Web, Healthtech, and Fintech
  • NYC is home to 9,670 startups and 120 incubators


It’s more than Just Tech Companies

Tech jobs are defined as (1) any occupation within industries that produce tech or are enabled by it and (2) any occupation that produces tech or facilitates its use (e.g. a systems analyst for a global media company). Developers and programmers are in high demand across tech and non-tech sectors alike. In fact, almost half of New York’s tech talent is employed by non-tech industries.


The study also considered the talent potential from the city’s rich cluster of universities and colleges. Every year, New York City graduates nearly twice as many students with computer science degrees than its peer cities. This number is expected to grow even higher with addition of satellite tech campuses like Cornell Tech.


The Smart City

Along with a deep talent pool and top employers, New York City is also the perfect laboratory for urban tech experiments – it’s huge, it’s dense, and has endless variables to test from.  With city leadership that has successfully partnered with companies like LinkNYC and Plus Pool to modernize public spaces and services, and generate revenue, New York is poised to become a leader in urban tech.


Our Urban Tech Practice advises city and tech-industry leaders on strategies and partnerships for creating connected, thriving cities. To learn more about HR&A’s growing Urban Tech practice, email Kate Wittels.

HR&A Partners Speak at the World Bank’s City Resilience Conference in Bangkok

HR&A Partners Stan Wall and Amitabh Barthakur are participating in the World Bank Group’s City Resilience Conference (November 6-10, 2017) to share insights, expert guidance, and best practices in the use of land value capture (LVC) financing tools to fund the development of resilient urban projects. Their sessions offer lessons learned from three of HR&A’s urban resilience projects, including:


  • Leveraging publicly-owned land to develop resilient, financially sustainable public infrastructure at Brooklyn Bridge Park, in New York City, New York.
  • Small area planning which supported creation of an assessment district to fund transit infrastructure development in the NoMa neighborhood of Washington, DC.
  • A public-private partnership that leverages publicly owned real estate to develop a Civic Center campus for the City of Long Beach, California.


The sessions also draw on developing world examples of LVC tools used to fund catalytic resilience projects, including leveraging publicly-owned land to fund development of the Sabarmati Riverfront, in Ahmedabad, India, the use of property assessments to fund development of infrastructure in Bogota, Colombia, as well as, leveraging valuable land adjacent to the Indira Gandhi International Airport, in Delhi, India.


As a firm, HR&A is committed to advancing resilience through a unique, multidisciplinary approach in projects around the world. From empowering local decision makers through capacity-building programs, to designing resilience and climate adaptation plans, to implementing resilience efforts in response to natural disasters, HR&A is an industry leader in strategic resilience thinking. We work with local communities and national governments to design and implement strategies and projects that address a multiplicity of risks while leveraging diverse funding and partnership opportunities.


About the Comprehensive Financial Solutions for City Resilience Conference

The annual Comprehensive Financial Solutions for City Resilience Conference organized by the World Bank Group’s City Resilience Program (CRP) brings together city officials, private sector experts, donors, and investors to prepare for ambitious investments in urban resilience. The aim is to refine existing investment ideas and expand the financing options available for cities. By combining technical workshops with hands-on planning sessions over a five-day period, city leaders will be equipped to further develop their investment plans and identify opportunities for private sector financing.

Atlanta Plans for a More Equitable Future

Atlanta unveiled “Resilient Atlanta: Actions to Build a More Equitable Future,” their 100 Resilient Cities strategy, to much acclaim on November 2, 2017. The plan is bolstered by four visions, 16 measurable targets, and nearly 60 actions for implementation.


Atlanta is part of an expansive Metro region that has experienced significant growth in recent decades. While residents and new businesses continue to be attracted to the region, the City’s ability to achieve its maximum potential is threatened by racial inequity, suburban sprawl, and lack of investment in infrastructure and affordable housing.


As a strategy partner for 100 Resilient Cities – Pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation, HR&A Advisors supported Atlanta and its Chief Resilience Officer in developing Resilient Atlanta, a comprehensive and actionable plan to address these regional challenges while building capacity among residents and city systems to better anticipate and respond to future shocks. The strategy builds on strengths of regional growth, diversity, integration, and inclusion. The strategy includes four Visions for the City supported by Targets and Actions for successful implementation.


Vision 1: Preserve and Celebrate Who We Are. Preserve and enhance Metro Atlanta’s culture, shared identity, and history to build social cohesion and cultivate the creative economy. The Targets and Actions under this Vision aim to increase community cohesion, address racial inequity, and strengthen Atlanta’s culture and creative economy. Action highlights:

  • Create a formal City document and corresponding policies by 2020 to recognize and reconcile past systemic wrongdoings
  • Develop a comprehensive cultural plan for the City of Atlanta


Vision 2: Enable All Metro Atlantans to Prosper. Reduce the barriers preventing Atlantans from achieving economic stability and security to increase access to opportunity and move Atlanta out of the nation’s top 10 cities ranked for income inequality. The Targets and Actions under this Vision support improving economic mobility and inter-generational wealth building by focusing on early childhood education and workforce development opportunities for all. Action highlights:

  • Support Georgia’s Universal Pre-K Program for all four-year-olds by reducing the number of children on Pre-K waiting lists in high-need areas
  • Establish a $5 million dollar Creative Industries Revolving Loan Fund to support and retain local film and music talent


Vision 3: Build Our Future City Today. Facilitate the development of an equitable and inclusive city while preserving and expanding Atlanta’s natural environment. The Targets and Actions under this Vision foster vibrant, healthy, and equitable neighborhoods that will improve the quality of life for all Atlantans through expansion of affordable housing, support diversification of transportation modes, increase access to fresh food, improve proximity to greenspace for recreational use, as well as invest in sustainable and resilient infrastructure improvements. Action highlights:

  • Decrease the number of housing cost-burdened residents and increase the production and preservation of affordable housing
  • Develop a resilient local food system by 2025
  • Complete construction of the first segment of the Proctor Creek Greenway by January 2018


Vision 4: Design Our Systems to Reflect Our Values. Adapt Atlanta’s civic systems to enable the City to become a leader in equity, sustainability, and resilience. The Targets and Actions under this Vision seek to improve the efficiency and usability of city systems to encourage greater civic engagement and institutionalize use of the resilience lens among decision makers across Atlanta. Action Highlights:

  • Create and implement a strategy for the City to use 100 percent clean energy
  • Launch an Airport Resilience and Sustainability Innovation Center by 2023


The full plan can be read here.

Denver Broadway Station Receives Public Infrastructure Financing Approval

In October 2017, the Denver City Council unanimously approved the second largest tax increment financing (TIF) request in the city’s history. The $90 million package (exclusive of a $50 million Metro District package) will support a 41-acre mixed-use development adjacent to Broadway Station, one of the most trafficked light rail stops in Denver, at the intersection of Broadway and I-25. For the past two and a half years, HR&A has advised Broadway Station Partners, owners of the former industrial site that housed the Gates Rubber Factory, on this project which has been over a decade in the making (after initial plans for the site under a different owner fell through in 2003).


HR&A conducted the real estate market analysis that informed the development program, built the pro forma that informed the size of the owner’s request for a TIF and Metro District public finance package, and collaborated with a team that included Kaplan Kirsch Rockwell, Strae Advisory Services, Collins Cockrel & Cole, and CRL Associates to support negotiation of the deal by our client.  In addition, we partnered with an extraordinary team of physical design professionals, including Beyer Blinder Belle, Matrix Design Group, Dig Studio, and WSP/Parson Brinckerhoff to develop the program that excited the imagination of policy makers and neighborhood stakeholders, thereby securing the public finance package.


The new 4 million SF development will include apartments, offices, co-working space, retail, and civic spaces. The public money dedicated to the project will fund new streets, pedestrian bridges, parks, utilities, and public art, and includes a $3 million commitment to address the capacity needs of Denver Public Schools. This public investment will unlock over $1 billion in transit-oriented development.