Real Estate Gives Back: A Champion for Affordable Housing

Heidi Burkhart makes housing preservation and improvement a top priority for her multifamily investment brokerage company.
Heidi Burkhart  Image courtesy of Dane Real Estate

Heidi Burkhart, founder of Manhattan-based Dane Real Estate, an investment sales brokerage that focuses on affordable housing, demonstrates you can do good and make money at the same time. 

Burkhart launched Dane in 2008 at age 26. To date, her team has closed more than $2 billion in affordable housing properties, many of which are large Section 8 housing complexes like the Concord Court and Seaside Plaza in New York City’s Staten Island, which total 430 units. Section 8 provides assistance to eligible low- and moderate-income families to rent housing in the private market. These rentals are preserved through tax credits or because their owners have a mission to maintain affordable housing rates.

Burkhart’s interest in affordable housing—from Section 8 to low- and middle-income housing—came after she graduated from the University of Toledo with a degree in marketing and finance. She took a job in pharmaceutical sales in Stamford, Conn., and had no  idea how expensive it would be to live in a suburb of New York City. 

To make ends meet, Burkhart took a second job at a retail shop where she was introduced to an executive from investment brokerage Eastern Consolidated. Soon after, she joined the firm and quickly began to excel in affordable housing sales transactions, becoming a director at age 25. 

In that role, Burkhart began attending conferences and meeting the top players in affordable housing, including Deborah VanAmerongen, former director of multifamily housing for HUD in the New York region. After several conversations with VanAmerongen, Burkhart learned that running a successful investment brokerage and helping preserve and improve affordable the housing stock were not mutually exclusive concepts.

Sticker Shock

Burkhart calls herself a “product” of New York City affordable housing. When she first moved to the city in 2002, she rented a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side for $1,062 per month. She recalls the price seemed “crazy expensive” compared to Ohio but surprisingly cheap by New York standards, where the market rate for such an apartment was closer to $2,200 per month.

I don’t know how I would have survived if I did not find that rent-stabilized apartment,” she said. “It’s not fun to live paycheck to paycheck, a situation that many middle-income people struggle with.”  

As a result, while she acknowledges there is a need for homeless shelters and low-income housing initiatives like Section 8, she puts most of her efforts into advocating for more affordable options for middle-income renters. Such properties are critical “stepping stones” for the middle class, Burkhart said, because, as people move up the income ladder, they lose their access to income-restricted units while still not being able to afford luxury apartments. 

Burkhart serves on the board of directors for both the Institute for Responsible Housing Preservation and the New York State Association for Affordable Housing and estimates that she has impacted nearly 100,000 people over the course of her 17-year career through her work preserving affordable housing.

One of Dane’s largest and most recent closings, for example, was the sale of Brunswick Estates, a $40.2 million rental community in Jersey City, N.J., to WinnDevelopment. Following the purchase, WinnDevelopment and Greater Bergen Community Action drastically improved 131 units of physically and financially at-risk affordable family housing, introduced new resident services and preserved the community’s affordability for the next 30 years. 

“When you go from a shabby shack to something that’s brand new, I think of that moment as ‘I have a new home, a new sense of purpose,’” said Burkhart. “I think that’s important to know, with regards to all of those sales, all of those people. I think we realize that indirectly we’re involved as a catalyst for their life to change. In a great way.”