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April 16, 2021

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Vancouver-based Ginn Group takes on community-focused approach in new projects

Homebuilder works on senior and low-income housing with nonprofits to address homelessness and affordable housing

By , Columbian business reporter
Published:
3 Photos
Construction work continues at Miles Terrace in Vancouver. The senior housing project is a partnership between the Vancouver Housing Authority and Ginn Group.
Construction work continues at Miles Terrace in Vancouver. The senior housing project is a partnership between the Vancouver Housing Authority and Ginn Group. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Vancouver-based Ginn Group has become an outsized presence in just a few years by positioning itself as an aggressive builder of entry-level and workforce single-family homes at a time when Clark County is struggling with an inventory shortage and rising prices.

The strategy has served Ginn Group well, but it comes with some limitations. Founder and CEO Patrick Ginn described it as an assembly line with a straightforward formula: “get land, build homes, do it again.” With an eye toward the company’s long-term future, Ginn said the time has come to evolve.

The homebuilding side of the business is not going away, but in the past year Ginn Group has embarked on a handful of projects that break the company’s traditional mold. Ginn pointed to those efforts as examples of a more deliberate and community-focused approach that he wants the company to embrace.

Unconventional projects

Most of the projects stand out because they involve partnerships with nonprofits and community groups, usually with the goal of targeting specific community needs.

One of the most prominent examples is Fruit Valley Village, a project from the nonprofit Community Roots Collective, which will turn the property surrounding an 1870s-era railway station on Fruit Valley Road into a tiny home community for people who have experienced homelessness.

The prefabricated tiny homes will be supplied by Battle Ground-based Wolf Industries, with Ginn Group doing site work to prepare for their installation.

Another example is the Miles Terrace project, a senior housing building under construction on Daniels Street off Mill Plain Boulevard west of downtown.

Ginn Group initially purchased the land for a market-rate development, but the project began to evolve after Ginn reached out to the Vancouver Housing Authority in 2019 to explore the possibility of a partnership to address low-income housing needs. The final iteration of the project is VHA-owned, with Ginn Group serving as the general contractor.

A third project recently wrapped up construction: Neals Lane, built in partnership with Second Step Housing. The project consists of eight new units of transitional housing in addition to one existing home on property in the Fourth Plain Village neighborhood.

There’s one more unconventional project in the works, currently slated to break ground next year: a 50-unit affordable housing project called the 65th Avenue Apartments in the Meadow Homes neighborhood. The project is being planned in-house through a new arm of Ginn Group called Ginn Gives, a nonprofit that the company founded in late 2019 to focus on philanthropic efforts and community involvement.

Unlike the partnership projects, the company will retain ownership of the 65th Avenue Apartments and serve as the property manager. It’s the first in what Patrick Ginn envisions as an ever-growing portfolio of Ginn Gives projects.

The overall company gives 10 percent of its profits to Ginn Gives with the goal of being able to finance a separate production pipeline for affordable housing projects, one that can take advantage of grant opportunities and Community Reinvestment Act dollars.

Ginn said he thinks that ratio is enough to support one new project every two years, at least initially. Rental income from those properties will go toward paying down construction debt, but Ginn said the goal is to eventually start investing it into further housing development or to support nonprofit groups.

Ginn said he hopes the company can build a large enough portfolio of properties to become self-sustaining. In the very long term – decades down the road – he said he envisions a portfolio with hundreds of units and more than $100 million in total assets.

Broader direction

None of this is completely new territory for Ginn Group – the company has done prior philanthropic work and already dabbled in apartment construction with projects such as Latitude 45 in the Landover-Sharmel Neighborhood.

But Ginn describes the new approach as a significant expansion of the company’s mission, driven in part by the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The past 12 months have highlighted a drastic need for affordable housing, he said, as well as a need for carefully tailored solutions to make sure groups don’t get left behind. The company’s new focus puts a much stronger emphasis on community design, he said, as opposed to just maximizing density.

The change stemmed in part from the shutdown during the early months, which included a temporary freeze on all nonessential construction work. Many Ginn projects had to pause, which Ginn said prompted him to think about what it means for a project to be essential, and the kind of projects the company was producing.

“Do they make a difference in the community?” he asked.

Internally, the company has spent the past year adding additional resources to its financial and property management divisions, Ginn said, in order to set itself up for long-term ownership of the new properties.

He described the company’s current slate of projects – both through Ginn Gives and the nonprofit partnerships – as somewhat experimental, with each serving as a learning experience to refine the development model.

“The concept of the private (sector) building affordable housing; to me that’s a little bit of experimentation,” he said. “I mean, I know it’ll work – but how does it work? Can we do it more affordably; can we do it faster?”

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