Q&A with Keith Harris, Avanath Capital

Lotus Campaign is proud to have Keith Harris, Executive Vice President of Avanath Capital, as a member of its Board of Directors (pictured far right). Keith is responsible for the firm’s Investments program. Avanath is a vertically integrated real estate investment firm that acquires, renovates, owns and operates affordable, workforce and value-oriented apartment communities across the U.S. We sat down with Keith to talk about affordable housing, homelessness, and Lotus Campaign.

Tell us a little about yourself, your current title & how you came to end up in real estate.

My interest in buildings started at a very young age. I had been interested in buildings and unique architecture since childhood and planned on architecture as a career. After realizing that the business side was more of my interest and interning at a real estate company during college, I had the opportunity to join that firm (Balcor) in their burgeoning training program. I rotated through all of their departments and stayed for several years afterwards.  From there, I went to another firm (JMB) that subsequently had their investment advisory business acquired by another company (Heitman). I spent 12 years at those firms. I joined what became Laramar Group in 2001 and became the firm’s Chief Investment Officer. I left in early 2015 and joined The Bozzuto Group to raise capital then moved back to the investment side of the business in 2019, joining Avanath as Executive Vice President of the Investment Group. My team is responsible for the acquisitions, financing, renovation and asset management of our portfolio.

How did you come to know Lotus Campaign?

In 2019, at the ULI Terwilliger Center Housing Affordability Symposium, Beth and Molly, two of the cofounders, did a panel and I became interested.

Why do you think people don’t believe homelessness is solvable?

The epidemic of homelessness appears overwhelming. Further, the press makes the situation seem hopeless. There is a new movement to acknowledge that homelessness is in large part a housing cost problem so there is an opportunity for Lotus to capitalize on this trend in the press and tell our story.

What’s the number one thing you want people in the real estate sector to know about homelessness & affordable housing that you don’t feel like is widely known or shared?

There is a burgeoning recognition of the connection between housing affordability and homelessness. Our story at Avanath is connected via a continuum of housing instability. It starts with the cost of new housing, next moves down the cost spectrum to displacement from asset renovation and repositioning that moves people out of naturally affordable housing when it is being repositioned by investors seeking return. Further down the spectrum, the cost of housing even for rents considered affordable to people making 60-80% of Area Median Income are becoming unaffordable for a part of the population. Subsidies, such as the Federal Section 8 program, provide safety and support but there is a 10-year wait for vouchers and the demand is insatiable. If people can’t afford housing, they are at risk of homelessness. At Avanath, we are primarily in the “Regulated Affordable” space, where our leasing is limited to people making below certain income thresholds. This provides much-needed affordable housing, but first, it is not enough housing and second, even these rents are beyond the reach of some people. This is the continuum of housing instability.

Number one thing that impresses you about Lotus Campaign or one story that really stands out to you about why their work is so pivotal.

I love the partnerships we create with area non-profits. Providing wrap-around services and ongoing support is so important to our residents’ growth and success.

Quotes that you live by?

“Never move away from something, move towards the thing that is next.”

“Enjoy the ride because if you always worry about getting there you will miss joy and frankly life is a long journey”

Book you think everyone should read.

On the Road by Kerouac

Leonardo Da Vinci biography by Isaacson

Color of Law by Rothstein

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