In meeting the toughest challenges of creating successful public-private partnerships, RBH Group is making inroads in community development
“What If?” That question shapes our future every day, opening new possibilities for societal growth, human connection, and business success. Our answers are the most powerful engine for transformation, and amazing things happen when organizations embrace it wholeheartedly. A visionary development firm with a mandate to make a positive social impact is just such an organization.
RBH Group, LLC has acquired, developed, rehabilitated, and/or operated over 6 million square feet of office, retail, industrial, and residential space throughout the U.S. In the early days of their existence as a property management group, RBH saw that the level of development in their home city of Newark, NJ, was nowhere near reaching its potential.
For an urban center just 7 miles from New York City, one of the best and most dynamic development markets in the nation, the disconnect didn’t make sense to Ron Beit, founding partner and CEO of RBH Group and president of RBH Management. “As a property manager in Newark, we became fixated on finding ways to unlock some of the value in the market and effectuate development,” he told BOSS.
At the same time Beit and his colleagues recognized that the city’s school system – like many other urban school districts – struggled to find and keep quality educators. RBH asked, “What if school districts could attract and support teachers and staff by creating housing opportunities in the urban communities where they work?”
Their answer, Teachers Village, is a game-changing neighborhood development concept created in Newark, and taking root in Atlanta, Hartford, Stockton, and Chicago, with projects scheduled in a number of other cities, including Dallas and Denver, as well as the NYC borough of Queens. Planning and developing new neighborhoods requires deep expertise in public-private partnerships (P3s), which are the specialty of this unique, social impact focused developer.
The company’s first effort, Teachers Village Newark, was the first multifamily ground up construction project to be built in the city in at least 40 years; RBH transformed a group of parking lots into a LEED-ND neighborhood in a thriving corporate and academic community. The resulting mixed-use environment is composed of three charter schools, a daycare facility, 203 units of rental housing marketed to teachers, and 65,000 square feet of high-quality retail space for more than 20 different businesses. Surrounded by five universities with a community of 50,000 teachers, students, and administrators, the residential buildings feature smart classrooms for teachers that offer continuing education in the arts, technology, and design.
Executing the concept at scale poses significant difficulties, which may be one reason why other real estate groups have backed away from the challenge.
“There's certainly been one or two low-income housing tax credit projects that have tried to do this, but no one has been doing it as intentionally and at the scale that we're doing it,” Beit stressed, noting the complexities of putting together the public investments required to undertake these projects. “It's difficult to recreate the wheel in every market. You may succeed in one market, but then you must figure it out in another market. It’s not easy.”
The personal touch the 11-member RBH team brings to these P3s is another significant advantage they are leveraging successfully. While the company engages contractors for aspects of design and construction, the early work of bringing governmental and private entities to the table to discuss financing and community approval is done by this well-seasoned group. “Our team has been doing it for some time, and we’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way,” he said. They are unrelenting in their determination to get these uplifting projects approved and funded.
“If we start a project, we will finish the project and we will deliver on our promise with a personal touch,” Beit added. Their in-house capabilities, which include architecture and construction, in addition to their financial modeling enables RBH to rapidly screen opportunities. Thoughtful in-house process management adds to their effectiveness. “We've laid out executable game plans, and once we begin to execute, we stay committed to making sure that we bring it to fruition.”
When it comes to financing their projects, RBH has successfully carved a niche at the intersection of market rate development and affordable housing development; what is known as workforce housing. Those in the affordable housing sector have distinct types of projects that require specific financing sources. “We are not that,” he said. “We do have affordable components in all our projects, but that is where we start. We also have workforce housing units along with market rate units … and we could be building schools or other types of asset classes into the Project as well.”
Last summer, RBH welcomed Gateway U, an alternative to the typical four-year college, in Teachers Village Newark. The hybrid classroom features both in-person and online curriculum from the University of Southern New Hampshire such that aspiring and established educators can pursue degrees outside the typical college path. “It continues to be well received, it continues to evolve, and will continue to respond to the needs of the teachers and the district and the school system here in the city,” Beit affirmed.
Open arms create a wider reach
During the forced isolation of the pandemic the RBH team created another unique neighborhood concept. Seeing that capital markets were not financing housing for middle income seniors in urban settings, RBH jumped at the chance to fill the unmet demand. While senior housing developers have been building that same concept for years in suburbia, the ability to make it work in urban environments has escaped them.
“To create a middle-income senior product in the urban areas you've got to be able to do the public investments like we do, and these developers don't,” Beit said. “It's the same exact reason why we became fixated on teachers over a decade ago: capital markets and developers not meeting the demand for that housing product.”
There’s a dynamic new element in RBH’s approach. Inspired by the positive social impact of intergenerational housing in Europe, Beit and company are evolving the Teachers Village model to create a new product called “Teachers Village+.” “The research is clear. There's been clear benefits to the students living with the wisdom of seniors, but also to the seniors,” he said, noting the power that intergenerational relationships have in enriching lives, preventing isolation, and awakening renewed purpose for the elder population.
RBH asked themselves, “What if we intentionally had our middle-income seniors interact with our teachers? What could be the benefit to each member in this relationship?” The idea of a mutually beneficial relationship that improves the lives of young and old has enraptured the ambitious organization, and the Chicago and Atlanta Teachers Villages, which are currently breaking ground, will be an intergenerational community.
When it comes to enriching lives, location matters. RBH creates their innovative neighborhoods in the heart of the cities in which they build, so that residents can access the benefits of city living, such as proximity to medical care, the arts and cultural activities, opportunities for meaningful continuing education, and a wide and deep diverse community of neighbors.
“We're super excited about the evolution of Teachers Village+ in creating more impact for the communities we're building in and really creating added value for our residents,” Beit concluded. RBH is all about transforming lives by asking, “What if?” – and we can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
RBH Group and its affiliates take pride in providing a hands-on, detail-oriented approach to facilitating project development from project inception to construction, as well as day-to-day management of diverse real estate assets. Ron Beit, founding partner and CEO of RBH Group, LLC and President of RBH Management, has acquired, developed, rehabilitated, and/or operated over 6 million square feet of office, retail, industrial, hotel, and residential space in over 30 projects and throughout the United States.
89 Market Street 8th floor
Newark, NJ 07102
Phone Number: 973-273-1600
Homepage Link: https://www.rbhgrp.com/