Village Green: Multifamily Maverick

Farmington, Mich.--Village Green prides itself on going against the grain, finding progressive ways to provide diverse communities for the diverse array of renters.
Mill District City Apartments

Farmington, Mich.–Village Green has been in the multifamily business since 1919, but the company’s perspective on the market is anything but antiquated. It’s progressive. It’s all about providing a diverse array of communities for the diverse array of renters. The company’s premise: five distinct brands, five distinct lifestyle choices.

The concept behind Village Green is simple, and while it is common to most consumer-driven businesses, it is rarely seen in the multifamily industry. The company believes that just as an automobile manufacturer might offer a sporty convertible for those who crave speed and a mini-van for the busy soccer mom, an apartment company should provide renters with options that suit their way of life. “For Village Green, the apartment business is a hospitality business,” Jonathan Holtzman, CEO of Village Green, tells MHN. “We think that renters are not a generalization. There isn’t a college in the world that teaches what the apartment market does. It’s the old Henry Ford way–you can have any color you want, as long as it’s black.”

For Village Green, customers actually do have choices. Among the five brands that provide distinct living environments is the signature Village Green, which encompasses resort-style apartment communities in suburban neighborhoods. The Regent Park properties are upscale, gated apartment hotels that attract the more affluent resident looking for exclusivity, while the Village Park apartment communities accommodate the younger first- or second-time renter seeking new luxury accommodations at reasonable prices. The City brand provides renters with a live-work-play urban environment with chic amenities. And rounding out Village Green’s lifestyle offerings is Leading Furnished Suites, the company’s temporary corporate housing brand that serves as a hotel alternative, supplying stylish surroundings coupled with the services one finds at a hotel.

Again, it’s all about branding. “The apartment industry just calls them apartments,” Holtzman notes. “Looking among our competitors, they’re not branded. The apartment industry is in denial about what renters want. The whole thing becomes one big generalization, so in a world of specialization, isn’t this moving counter to the way things are going?”

The Village Green portfolio spans 15 states along the East and West coasts, in the South and the Midwest, where the company is presently expanding with the development of Mill District City Apartments in downtown Minneapolis. “Mill District represents that Village Green is contrarian,” he says. “The customer is the driver, so we started construction in fall 2009, thinking what it would be like in fall 2011 or early 2012. We looked at what is the amount of other new construction downtown, what is the overhang of the shadow condominium market. The answer was customer demand. We thought the economy was going to improve and more people will stop considering apartment living as second-class living. We felt a very clear trend in downtown Minneapolis. Businesses are vibrant; companies are successful and diversifying. So why not build when the economy is bad and deliver to customers when the economy improves? Being contrarian is the success of our company.”

Development of Mill District, as is the case with all Village Green projects, is a socially conscious endeavor. “Village Green employs from within the city. We become part of the community where we do business. We also go out of our way to find American-made products to help create American jobs.”

The company, as one would infer from its name, is environmentally conscious as well. “We have not been green lately; we’ve been for the long term. From what we buy to how we operate and how we build, we’re doing green across the board. We think there are enough products and techniques out there that you’re not paying a premium–and it’s the right thing to do.”

Looking ahead, there’s more expansion on the horizon for Village Green, but its trademark apartment communities will not pop up everywhere. “Developers all go to the same cities,” Holtzman says. “Some of the last hot cities were Las Vegas and Miami. The media focuses in on certain cities and then developers and lenders all go to the same cities, and then there’s oversupply. Village Green has always been a contrarian; we’re not going where everyone else is going. So what if the population is somewhat flat. So what if employment is flat. We go into a city where people want to live, where there are or will be good jobs and no supply. Cities are like business cycles. Look at Detroit. Detroit is becoming the green auto capital of the world. Ford just announced a multi-billion-dollar profit. Detroit will become the growth city next year. Cities like Detroit, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Cleveland will become high-demand cities.”