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As the commercial real estate industry continues to face economic challenges, including rising interest rates, affordable housing will only become more essential. Commercial Observer’s Partner Insights spoke with Eri Kameyama, Vice President of Community Development Banking at JPMorgan Chase, about current challenges and possible solutions in the affordable housing space.

Commercial Observer: Talk about how you were introduced to affordable housing.

Eri Kameyama: I attended University of California Berkeley’s master’s program in city and regional planning because I wanted to study international development. During my time there, I was involved with the community development studio where students worked with the  residents to come up with a community development plan for West Oakland. Having spent the early years of my life in Japan, I was stunned to see firsthand the vast disparities in wealth and access to basic infrastructure, such as affordable housing, in the U.S. This drove my interest to work in the field, and I quickly learned that reliable affordable housing is the most basic need in people’s lives and a main stepping stone for upward mobility in society. Right after grad school, I worked for the City of Oakland’s economic development agency, where I managed affordable housing projects and administered housing loan programs, hoping to make a real difference in the city. 

How did working in the public sector help prepare you for your current position?

Kameyama: One of the projects that made a profound impact on how I look at housing was an affordable development called Oak Park in East Oakland. It was a dilapidated apartment complex where residents lived in rough conditions with multiple code violations. We supported a nonprofit developer in acquiring the site and rehabilitating the property. I was involved with the rehabilitation process, the relocation and subsequent return of the residents. The rehabilitated building reinvented the community, and it gave me great insight into how housing can change people’s lives.  

I also worked for the City of San Diego when its downtown was seeing significant gentrification. My role was to maximize production of affordable housing for both families and the homeless. My experiences in Oakland and San Diego have given me the perspective that affordable housing is more than housing—it’s a revitalization tool for communities. I can say there is no greater feeling than seeing the direct impact our investments are making—it is a testament to the hard work and advocacy we are making for our communities. 

You also worked at a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). How has that experience helped you in your role at JPMorgan Chase?

Kameyama: CDFIs are essential in helping extend reach into underserved communities. They are engaged at local levels and have boots-on-the-ground knowledge. When I worked at Low Income Investment Fund, a national CDFI, on predevelopment and acquisition financing for affordable housing developers, I learned a lot about how much work affordable housing developers had to do prior to starting construction and about how to collaborate with other organizations to leverage capital. That is the big thing about CDFIs—we learn how to innovate through collaboration.  

What are some of the efforts you are undertaking at JPMorgan Chase to help strengthen affordable housing?

Kameyama: As a construction lender, our role is to provide construction and permanent financing to affordable housing developers. As part of the firm’s $30 billion Racial Equity Commitment, including $14 billion for the creation and preservation of affordable housing, JPMorgan Chase works with various affordable housing developers to maximize possible impact in the communities it serves.

One project I am excited to have been able to support is Evermont, a mixed-use, transit-oriented development on a site that sat vacant for decades after the Los Angeles riots. When final, it will include retail, a transit center, a job training facility and 180 units of affordable housing for low-income families, seniors and formerly homeless youth. This is a great example of how we can transform a neighborhood for the better.

How have the last few years of economic turmoil, including inflation and rising interest rates, affected JPMorgan Chase's efforts in affordable housing?

Both have severely affected affordable housing developments because developers are facing higher costs but can’t increase rent. So they’ve had to get creative and find innovative ways to reduce costs. We’ve worked closely with developers and public partners to try to make it work and embrace innovations in technology or financing to speed up affordable housing production. 

We're one of the major construction lenders to embrace modular technology—we’ve done dozens of modular projects. Modular technology can shorten the construction timeline, which helps reduce construction costs. We also worked with the State of California last year to support projects receiving California Housing Accelerator funding, a program that advanced the development of stalled affordable housing. We closed 16 deals in this program.

What are some things you’d like to see from the public sector to assist in dealing with the affordable housing crisis?

Kameyama: Public funding is key. Without it, there’s no affordable housing. But having worked in the public sector for years, I understand the challenges. With my background, I understand the importance of strong leadership at public agencies. In Los Angeles, where I’m based, we have a new mayor who is pushing for faster affordable housing production. Hopefully, leaders like her can focus on results rather than merely on the process.

How do you see U.S. affordable housing faring over the next five to 10 years?

Affordable housing is needed today more than ever. While the availability of resources to finance low-income housing for families and seniors remains a concern, as a firm we will continue to work with industry partners—both public and private—to get as much housing built for our communities as possible.

There is a real lack of supply in the U.S. But coming from Japan, where there is only public housing, I was very impressed with how this country looks to solve the affordable housing shortage. We use capitalism to create affordable housing, which is very different from other countries. The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) is one of the ways the private market is being motivated to create affordable housing. Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) is another good example of incentivizing private markets to invest in affordable housing. These drivers are very important to maintain, and we also need continued involvement from public agencies. I'm hopeful that we will continue coming up with new solutions to build more housing, even with all the challenges the industry faces.

This article is part of an ongoing series written by Commercial Observer and published by JPMorgan Chase. 

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