Green, Affordable and Urban

Jonathan Rose is president of Katonah, NY-based Jonathan Rose Cos. LLC, an organization known for creating communities that blend housing, employment, green spaces and public transportation. Rose believes mixed uses, mixed incomes and sustainability are keys to success. He talks to MHN Contributing Editor Jeffrey Steele about the principles underpinning his development philosophy.Why and how did you get involved with the Enterprise Foundation?I love Enterprise. My hero was Jim Rouse, the founder of Enterprise, an extraordinary developer. Since I am deeply committed to affordable housing, and Enterprise is a leading provider of services to the affordable housing field, it made sense to get involved. My family endowed a wonderful program, The Frederick P. Rose Architectural Fellowship, which places young architects in community development organizations to assist them in financing and developing affordable housing. Enterprise invited me to join its board, and I helped them think through its programs for the greening of affordable housing. How have you overcome the challenges of the credit crunch?Because our work is green, affordable and urban, we are able to access CRA financing. We closed on the financing of four projects in November-December 2008, at a time when very few people were getting projects financed. We were able to do this because the projects qualified under the Community Reinvestment Act, which encourages banks to invest in affordable housing in low-income communities. There are still funds flowing in the CRA world, but one has to understand that business.We have very conservative credit structures, using Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guarantees, lots of tax credit equity and public support to make our projects financially conservative.And we have a perfect track record, never having defaulted on a single loan. There’s a flight to quality in the financing world, and we offer that quality.Has the development pipeline slowed down as much as commonly assumed?Not in the affordable housing side, but elsewhere absolutely. Our development pipeline hasn’t slowed down, but we understand that until the federal government figures how to get the low income tax credit value above 90 cents on the dollar, or develop gap-filling programs, the affordable housing development pipeline will slow down also.Discuss your advocacy for a mixed-use, mixed-income credit enhancement program to make urban infill easier.One of the reason cities thrive is because they’re mixed-use and mixed-income. What we finance is what gets built. If our society wants to have mixed-use, mixed-income cities, we need a mixed-use, mixed-income credit enhancement program.You were an advocate of sustainability before sustainability was cool. What were your influences in that regard?Love of nature, and a belief that we have a moral obligation to reduce our impact on the earth—and that it makes good business sense.What’s your view on zero-energy cities?I think they’re very difficult to achieve at this point. It’s important to have high aspirations though, because that will encourage advancements in energy reduction.Where are we are headed in terms of wind and other alternative energies?The most profitable investment we can make right now is in insulation to reduce our energy use. But wind and solar are extremely important. And now that the solar and wind tax credits have been renewed, I hope we see wind and solar power wherever they make sense.The availability of public transportation options appear a key component to all your projects. Why?Low-income and working-class people spend as much on transportation as they do on rent. And after buildings, transportation is the second biggest contributor to climate change impacts. So from both an environmental and social perspective, we need more mass transportation. Additionally, if you believe fuel shortages are coming, mass transportation makes cities much more resilient.How tough was it for you, as a developer, to switch gears and launch a record label?When I was younger, it was a lot of fun. I started Gramavision records in 1979 and recorded many award-winning jazz and new music records. But I found I didn’t have enough time to do them both, so I sold the record company in 1993. For many years, I was on the board of Jazz at Lincoln Center and led the development of Frederick P. Rose Hall. To comment, e-mail