One of the company's principals reads to children in an after-school program. The human resources manager spearheads programs for single mothers. A property manager helps a laid-off resident find a new job.
None of those tasks relates to collecting a rent check, but they have become an essential part of the spirit that drives Walton Communities, a privately held apartment developer based in Marietta, Ga. Started by four real estate pros who share a like-minded mission of meeting the broad needs of residents, the company is shaping a reputation as one of Georgia's best practitioners of affordable-housing communities.
About 1,000 units of the firm's 2,500-unit apartment portfolio fall into the affordable category, having been built with the help of capital from tax-exempt bonds and federal and state low-income tax credits. But the styling, siting, amenities, and resident services found in these developments rival what you would expect to see even in some of the nicest market-rate projects.
UNMET NEED That growing acceptance fulfills a dream of what has become a very effective brother-sister act. For many years, Barry Teague and his sister, Lynda Ausburn, worked in management for Post Properties, watching that Atlanta developer of upscale apartments grow from two properties to dozens located throughout the Southeast.
But something was missing in that experience. “The projects we saw being built focused primarily on affluent young professionals and mature adults,” recalls Ausburn. “There was a big vacuum in affordable apartments for families, especially single parents.”
To pursue that market, the two apartment veterans formed Teague-Ausburn Properties in 1989, buying and renovating a 30-year-old apartment complex in Cobb County north of Atlanta. Called Savannah Park—a name later changed to Walton Trail—the 404-unit project offered a package of features that has since become the company's hallmark: large, family-friendly floor plans, a location next to a school, and rents designed to fit moderate-income budgets.
It was there, too, that Teague and Ausburn began shaping what now is an extraordinary menu of resident services, such as the on-site library that they started at Savannah Park after they failed to find a single book in their visits to apartments. In addition, they forged partnerships with local schools and launched programs for children, teens, and single parents.
But the company really began to jell in the mid-1990s, when Teague and Ausburn partnered with two development veterans who shared their family-centered ideals, David Knight and Keith Davidson. After cooperating on a land purchase deal and a construction project, the four principals joined together in 1999 to form Walton Communities, named after “The Waltons,” the 1970s TV show. “‘The Waltons' represented the tight-knit traditional communities that we hoped our communities would become,” explains Ausburn. “And like the Waltons, we wanted an environment where people knew each other and were willing to help if someone was in need.”
WINNING FORMULA Those lofty values have played out especially well in a string of mixed-income communities that Walton has built over the last six years in Cobb County and northern Fulton County. Those developments combine the strong resident-service programs developed by Teague and Ausburn with the land acquisition, financing, and construction savvy of Knight and Davidson.