Drive down the streets of southern Dallas' Cedar Crest neighborhood, and you'll see dismal barrack-style apartments, boarded-up store-fronts, and buildings caked in a rainbow of graffiti, with store signs that are missing a letter or two. Continue just a little further, and you won't believe your eyes. There, in the middle of the grime and neglect, sits an urban oasis: Rosemont at Cedar Crest.
Once the site of a dilapidated shopping center, Southwest Housing's Cedar Crest property boasts a fashionable façade of red brick and Austin stone. Each apartment features a tiled entryway, 9-foot ceilings, ceiling fans, a kitchen island, and solid wood pantries. French doors open onto a large, inviting patio. To complete the package, residents at the 256-unit, family-targeted community are offered a range of services from after-school programs and family counseling to adult education and recreational activities.
“It's very rewarding to take people out of the worst housing projects in the city and into brand-new living conditions which they can not only be proud of, but grow as people,” says Brian Potashnik, president of Southwest Housing, a Dallas-based affordable housing company.
Rosemont at Cedar Crest is just a small piece of the legacy Potashnik and his wife Cheryl, co-owner of the company, are leaving to the community. One of the largest affordable housing developers in the Southwest, the company has built 8,000 units of much-needed affordable senior and family housing throughout Texas, often replacing rundown apartments and shopping centers. Since 2000, Southwest has invested more than $150 million in Dallas' southern sector alone, slowly creating an impetus for change in this downtrodden section of town.
Of course, to create a lasting legacy, a company must do more than contribute a handful of good-looking properties to a city's building stock. Southwest Housing sets a new standard for affordable housing by not only changing the physical footprint of the product, but also by changing the model for effectively building quality affordable projects, and ultimately transforming people's lives.
“Their properties are very well-constructed and very well-designed, and then you couple that with the social services that Brian and Cheryl do, and it really makes them truly one of the top developer clients in the nation,” says Jerry Wright, managing director of Houston-based Newman and Associates, a division of GMAC Commercial Holdings, which is one of Southwest's lenders.
Legacy in the Making Brian and Cheryl Potashnik always had their hearts set on affordable housing. The niche is not only a way to help families and seniors grow socially and economically, but it presents a safe business opportunity, says Brian Potashnik. “I felt that there would always be a consistent demand for affordable housing, and it was a sound economic business,” he says.
Potashnik met his wife at a tax credit conference in Dallas in 1994. “Very romantic,” he jokes. The two put their talents together, founding Southwest Housing in 1993. Brian, who came from a tax credit syndication background, brought the financial expertise, while Cheryl, who worked in the City of Dallas' development department, knew the ins and outs of housing.
Their first year of business, the Potashniks acquired and rehabbed Estrada Apartments, a 244-unit affordable family community in Carrollton, Texas. The company slowly grew its portfolio, focusing on one or two acquisitions and rehabs its first five years. In 1996, Southwest switched to new construction because most distressed properties the company found were simply beyond renovation. “A year or two after someone pours a lot of money into [renovations], you stand there and wonder where the money went,” says Potashnik. “They end up reverting back to what they were.”
Southwest now builds about 10 affordable properties a year, both in economically challenged urban neighborhoods and high-end suburban areas mainly in Texas, with a handful in Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona. The portfolio is equally divided between affordable and senior communities, which has helped the company “weather a tough real estate rental market over the last couple years,” says Cheryl. Senior properties carry fewer NIMBY threats and tend to have lower vacancy than family properties.