When Aaron Goldman was just entering real estate, he saw first hand the issues surrounding poverty and inadequate housing as a volunteer for Chicago’s Cabrini Green Youth Program.
It would change his life.
“As a volunteer and board member, I watched it grow to meet the needs of 600 at-risk children in the worst housing project in Chicago,” said Goldman, who today serves as president and co-owner of Perennial Properties Inc., which owns and manages 13 intown Atlanta multi-family projects. “I really developed strong bonds with the kids.”
That experience would later lead to Goldman co-founding a nonprofit called the Atlanta Real Estate Collaborative (AREC), a group of real estate executives who work to link affordable housing options to nonprofits serving the homeless.
Through a program called Open Doors (a partnership with Enterprise Community Partners and Project Community Connections Inc.), the organization has helped place more than 3,000 homeless people in affordable housing since 2012.
“We are very grateful for [Goldman’s] leadership,” said Protip Biswas, vice president of homelessness and community outreach for United Way of Greater Atlanta, one of the organizations that works with Open Doors. “In order to end homelessness, you have got to find housing for a person. One of the major barriers is the cost of housing. But also background checks and other rules can make our population fail. …This approach is reputable and the interest is growing.”
For Goldman, the efforts stem back to a long-held pledge to community service. But, he’s definitely too humble to take credit, said his good friend Jonathan Lerner.
“He bucks what would be the stereotypical trend of developers,” said Lerner, who met Goldman nearly 20 years ago when he first came to Atlanta. “His aspirations were to balance giving back, always, with creating. That’s a classy character.”
Goldman’s even taken a personal interest in some of the clients, such as Roderick Streeter, a formerly homeless man with a young son who got housing assistance from Open Doors. Today, he lives in a “safe” apartment, said Goldman, and works for Perennial Properties on its maintenance team.
“Aaron’s that type of influential leader who carries a bigger message,” said Lerner, an executive with talent and learning management software company Skillsoft. “It’s genuine. He’s not doing it to get somewhere. I think it’s from the heart everything he does.”
A native of Milwaukee, Goldman attended University of Wisconsin, earning a degree in real estate.
He said he was drawn to real estate because “It really appeared to be more of an entrepreneurial industry where there was a lot of individuality. What I learned is you could have a transformational impact on cities and communities with the projects you undertook.”
Out of school, he landed a job with Heller Financial. At the time, the country was in the midst of the savings and loan crisis. He was handed what he called an “exploding loan” portfolio of commercial properties about to fall into default.
“That was a really fantastic time to learn not only what to do, but what not to do with real estate investments,” Goldman said.
After that, he worked as an investment officer for Cohen Financial. But, it was after he met his wife, Angel, that Goldman said he found his dream job.
His brother-in-law, Tim Schrager, had been acquiring apartment properties in intown areas including Virginia-Highland and Midtown. Goldman decided to join him at Perennial Properties about 20 years ago.
“It was everything I could dream of,” Goldman said. “Tim was an incredibly skilled designer, builder and manager. What he was really missing was capital markets, finance and legal expertise. It was very complementary. It was an opportunity of a lifetime for me because he had such a vision while being a great investor and operator.”
Together, the pair would develop some of Atlanta’s popular apartment projects. In 2004 came Highland Walk in Old Fourth Ward, followed by N. Highland Steel in neighboring Inman Park in 2007.
In 2009, Perennial developed the Pencil Factory Flats & Shops, which today includes tenants such as The Village Theatre.
Most recently, Perennial developed 755 North, an apartment complex on the Atlanta Beltline at Historic Fourth Ward Park, and The Brady in Atlanta’s trendy Westside neighborhood.
Goldman said he got the idea for the Atlanta Real Estate Collaborative around 2011 while biking around the city.
“It became very clear to me the homeless problems were getting much worse,” Goldman said, adding he pulled together a group of real estate developers, managers and investors, including some with affordable housing portfolios, to delve into the issue. “If somebody had told me that we would build something and end homelessness for 50 people, we would have thought that was great. So this is amazing what we achieved. I feel we have a great responsibility, because this works.”
Now, the Atlanta Real Estate Collaborative is being pulled into broader conversations about affordable housing. The nonprofit has joined with groups such as Enterprise Community Partners, Urban Land Institute, United Way and Invest Atlanta to help find solutions to what’s a pressing issue for many Atlantans.
“Over 1 million of the 5 million individuals that live in Atlanta live in households where they are within one or two paychecks of losing their home or apartment,” Goldman said. “It’s an important issue as we think about ‘What does being a first-class city mean? What are our obligations to our neighbors?’”
This article first appeared in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on May 20, 2016 by Amy Wenk. To see the original article, click here.