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The Chinese have a saying often translated as “In Crisis there is Opportunity”.  I found this to be true when I launched my firm, The Opes Group, in 2012 and I am finding it to be true yet again as I embark on a new journey in affordable housing catalyzed somewhat by the pandemic.

In 2012, I raised capital for a new real estate and hospitality venture on International Drive in Orlando, Florida. The economy was still in the wake of the Great Recession and investors remained in fear on the sidelines. It would be an understatement to say the capital raising process was challenging. In fact, it was so tumultuous that it inspired me to launch an advisory business to assist others in raising funds for their ventures. I knew my team was not the only one struggling to realize our dreams and that others would benefit from what we had learned along the way.

We could never have imagined the warm welcome that we received. People were amazed to discover that investment banking services were available to emerging and lower middle market businesses. They mistakenly believed that such “Wall Street” services were only available to Fortune 1000 firms. Over the years, we have worked with over 100 companies and arranged more than $500 million for these firms to grow and soar to never before imagined heights. We started off with a focus on real estate projects and later expanded into technology, healthcare and a wide array of industries. We developed into a sector agnostic advisory group that covers a broader range of capital sources than most firms in our space.

This brings us to today. At the onset of the pandemic the message to “stay at home” reverberated throughout the nation. Our firm was in fact at the forefront of this as we instituted working from home plans at our headquarters in New York City weeks before that was mandated by the State of New York. Further, our cofounder lives in the town that was the very first in the country to enact a lockdown and curfew. Ever since, home has taken on an extra special meaning to us all and made me think about the lack of affordable housing in many places and the lack of access to home ownership that many communities face. In addition, the pandemic underscored the desire of many families to transition to larger accommodations. I began to explore my local housing situation and started building a portfolio of single-family homes. It was frankly an enjoyable way to spend time given so many other daily activities had been curtailed. I enjoyed searching for places, negotiating the deals and ultimately meeting prospective tenants and hearing their stories.

One day last July, a prospective tenant ushered me to the backyard of one of my homes so she could speak in private away from my Operations Manager. Despite being alone, she still lowered her voice and asked, “Do you take the check?” I asked for clarification as I had no clue to what she was referring. I learned that she was currently living 20 miles away and wanted to move to Weston to access our school system, but could only afford a home in the area if she used her Section 8 voucher. 

She explained that for two years she had tried to move, but every landlord had rejected her. Sometimes a situation needs fresh eyes. Entrenched landlords have a certain view of low-income tenants and have no incentive to evaluate specific situations; the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater. I allowed this lady to use her voucher and today her family of five is thriving. I occasionally even run into them at our neighborhood market which is a much more wholesome shopping experience than those in her previous neighborhood. This experience opened my eyes to the affordable housing crisis in our nation and the fact that even when some folks CAN afford housing, they are still locked out of certain areas and therefore denied equal access to the corresponding socioeconomic opportunities!

My team has since built out a solid development pipeline with more than half of our plans including affordable housing. If we want to make the world a better place, we cannot sit back and rely on others; we need to be the change we want to see.

Will you join us on this journey?

Alexi Harding

Alexi Harding, CEO

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