BALTIMORE, MD - The Woodforest CEI-Boulos Opportunity Fund, a high-impact commercial real estate Opportunity Zone fund established by Woodforest National Bank and CEI-Boulos Capital Management, announced its $1.1 million equity investment in the Zero Energy North Avenue Affordable Housing project located in the recently designated "Black Arts District" in West Baltimore's Penn North neighborhood.
The Woodforest CEI-Boulos Opportunity Fund is the only outside equity investor in the $4.9 million, environmentally innovative project spearheaded by Baltimore's Schreiber Brothers Development. The project, which will rehabilitate abandoned, historic townhouses, is the first multifamily, zero energy development in Baltimore and the first mixed-use, zero energy development in Maryland. Some construction jobs will be filled by a workforce development nonprofit providing training and experience in sustainable development and solar panel installation to individuals with low incomes.
The project will create 20 units of affordable housing and four commercial storefronts. The plan is to lease the storefronts to local, Black-owned businesses and neighborhood nonprofits, including a childcare service provider. The project's goal is to accommodate future residents' employment and living needs under one roof by providing first right of refusal to owners and staff of the ground-level commercial spaces. The elimination of transportation and energy bills for the businesses will generate a substantial reduction in operating costs for the small businesses, nonprofits and residential tenants. The development, which is accessible to public transportation, will bring new job opportunities to a community that has long suffered from divestment.
The project is on the forefront of environmentally sustainable building practices. Solar panels and super-insulated walls will allow the property to produce as much energy as it consumes, reducing energy costs and allowing the housing units to be even more affordable. The project is expected to achieve Passive House certification for its energy efficiency, providing a unique example to the City of Baltimore of building affordable housing in a highly environmentally sustainable manner. The project's focus on sustainability implicitly addresses the overarching issue of environmental justice in underinvested communities.
"CEI-Boulos Capital Management is committed to harnessing the Opportunity Zone incentive to serve its intended purpose – to invest in catalytic projects that can help revitalize underinvested communities, like Penn North," said Sam Spencer, CEO and Managing Director, CEI-Boulos Capital Management. "We're thrilled to be working with our partners at Schreiber Brothers Development on a project delivering social and environmental impact. The investment is a great example of the fund's efforts to leverage private capital to help address the nation's renewed focus on racial and economic disparity."
"This project is a perfect example of using the OZ incentive and CRA investment to help make the vision community members had for the neighborhood a reality," said Doug Schaeffer, Executive Vice President, CRA Executive Director, Woodforest National Bank. "Our fund prioritizes investments that intentionally engage local communities and provide capital to elevate underinvested assets to their full potential. The Zero Energy North Avenue Affordable Housing project will have tremendous social and environmental benefits, making it an exemplary community impact investment."
The Zero Energy North Avenue Affordable Housing project will restore seven abandoned, historic townhouses and convert them into two new, consolidated buildings. 15 of the 20 new apartments will be restricted for 30 years to rental rates affordable to households earning 50% of area medium income (AMI). The remaining apartments will be leased at rates affordable to households earning 80% AMI and will be formally restricted not to exceed rates affordable to households earning 120% AMI for at least ten years. With the elimination of energy bills, these units will be even more affordable than the AMI restrictions indicate.
The project is expected to create approximately 20 permanent jobs through the four retail storefronts that will be located on the ground floor of the building. The project will also create 100-120 construction jobs. A local workforce development nonprofit will fill 31 of the jobs by training individuals with low incomes in sustainable building practices and solar panel installation. The project is less than a block from the Penn North Metro Station, connecting the project's residents to the employment opportunities and other resources of downtown Baltimore in under ten minutes.
The city and state recently designated the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor, including much of the Penn North neighborhood, as Baltimore's "Black Arts District," formally named the Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts and Entertainment District. Once a thriving center of Black culture and entertainment from the 1940s through the 1960s with theaters and music venues, the district is being revitalized largely by Black-led community organizations and businesses. A local arts organization, Black Arts District, is collaborating with Schreiber Brothers Development to create a mural for the building facade, and many of the tenants are expected to be artists. Schreiber Brothers Development has also taken additional steps to further engage the community with the project.
"Our approach is intentionally driven by community input and partnership to advance development without displacement," said Brendan Schreiber, President, Schreiber Brothers Development, a sustainable construction, and real estate firm promoting balanced growth. "The project responds to what leaders and activists have told us they want for the Penn North community. We are here to support the vision that residents, business owners and other partners have for their neighborhood and lead the way in ensuring community members are at the table for every step."
"From early on, the City of Baltimore recognized the potential of Opportunity Zones to drive inclusive growth in disinvested neighborhoods, which is why we were the first city in the country to bring on a dedicated OZ Coordinator," said Colin Tarbert, President and CEO of Baltimore Development Corporation. "We have been deliberate in our approach to welcome impact investors into Baltimore, like the Woodforest CEI-Boulos Opportunity Fund, who are committed to working with and creating value for local communities. This project, in the heart of West Baltimore, at the intersection of Pennsylvania and North Avenues, checks all the boxes for creating mixed-income housing, commercial space for local businesses and green buildings. We look forward to an ongoing partnership with CEI-Boulos Capital Management across our 42 Opportunity Zones in Baltimore."