Building Up

With demand for living space soaring, developer Meredith Marshall ’92 hopes to make housing more affordable.

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Erica Lansner

When Meredith Marshall ’92 launched BRP Development from his second bedroom in 2003, he planned to focus on rehabbing and selling brownstones. But he soon found that there's more opportunity in developing affordable housing, especially in major cities like New York, where the shortage of homes for low-income residents has reached crisis levels.

BRP, which Marshall owns with Geoff Flournoy, specializes in building market-rate apartments along with those for low- and middle-income tenants. In exchange, BRP receives federal tax credits it can pass along to attract investors. The firm has $1 billion worth of projects under way and another $1 billion worth of projects in the pipeline over the next two years, in the New York tristate area and in nearby major cities, such as Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Meeting the Housing Demand

“In a nutshell, there’s a lack of housing supply,” Marshall says. “New York City has many more new jobs and new residents than it has housing development.”

According to city figures, wages in the city have risen by only 15 percent in the last two decades; in that same period, the average rent has increased by almost 40 percent. In addition, there are more than two low-income households for every unit affordable to them, according to a US Census survey.

“New York has gone through a renaissance over the last 20 years, with job growth and population growth, and we can’t keep up,” Marshall says. “Neighborhoods that are attractive and have easy access to transportation saw a lot of demand and grew."

More Than Simply a Place to Live

Though BRP is a for-profit company, Marshall considers it “mission driven.” Most of Marshall’s developments combine mixed-income housing with space for retail and neighborhood institutions. BRP’s La Central development in the Bronx will incorporate commercial space and a YMCA. Caton Flats in Brooklyn will include 250 units of affordable housing and a new space for a local Caribbean market.

“We’re building a lot of community facilities, such as day care, after-school centers, and retail—all of which are needed in the neighborhoods we serve,” Marshall says. “These developments are a win-win situation that create jobs and make people feel better, because they see retail and a new doctor’s office and a new, modern church, even.” The firm also is increasingly focusing on building structures with LEED environmental certifications.

Ultimately, Marshall says, “BRP is doing good within the framework of building new, sustainable structures.”

Community Participation  

In major cities, gentrification is a hot-button issue, and local pushback can kill new developments. But Marshall says he has a history of earning community approval for projects, thanks in part to his Brooklyn roots and long track record.

“We have proven success building in many underinvested areas,” he explains, adding that the key to success in his business is connecting to communities early on. “It’s explaining the nuanced housing environment. It’s community engagement,” he says. “New York is a great place because of its diversity. And sometimes you have to tell that story and not just pit interest groups against each other.”

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