Credit: Katja Heinemann

The New York City market has always been an apple in the eyes of the large, national firms. Urban American is no exception. The firm, founded in 1997, got its start in New York and New Jersey, building a portfolio of more than 12,000 units. Now, 13 years later, president Doug Eisenberg, 39, is ready to expand to other high-barrier-to-entry markets such as Chicago and Philadelphia.

Eisenberg, who started the business with his father, thinks his formula of buying, renovating, and managing workforce apartment properties often overlooked by institutional investors will translate well to other markets. Over the next year, Eisenberg could be seeing a lot more of these types of assets as banks begin to cut the cord with challenged operators. But he won’t jump at every distressed multifamily opportunity that comes his way.

“We have discretion,” Eisenberg says. “Our business plan mandates a slow and steady march forward as compared to making a big pop in the short term. You have to be very careful and stick to underwriting standards.”

The firm does all its work in-house and has bought properties ranging from four units to portfolios of 4,000 units. Usually, the buildings aren’t in the best shape when Eisenberg takes over, so he starts with capital improvements, upgrading core components including HVAC systems, elevators, and security systems. “The buildings that we buy are typically not managed well and run-down,” Eisenberg says. “We put capital in, and then we create a quality of living for our residents that a lot of them haven’t seen in a long time.”

Eisenberg insists that his company does not pressure residents who are in good standing to move in order to accelerate the rehab process. His goal is to provide workforce housing to as many people as he can. “Our tenants are nurses, bus drivers, subway clerks, firefighters, teachers, librarians, and policemen,” Eisenberg says. “Whether you pay $300 a month or $1,000 a month, you should have a decent place to come home to.”