Boston's Next Generation of Developers: MPZ Development, Hope Real Estate & Capstone Communities 01/12/24

developers hope

The ever-changing development landscape of Boston requires developers to be resourceful and agile as they adjust to countless challenges such as new energy and building codes and a tough financing market. While historically Boston has seen a group of big-name players leading the development game, a new crop of firms have started to make their impact known.  In this series, BLDUP speaks with Boston’s Next Generation of Developers to discuss how they got their start, what makes for a good project, and their thoughts on the future of development in the city.

In this installment of the series, we spoke with a team of developers working on adaptive historic reuse and affordable housing projects across the Commonwealth. Jason Korb is the principal of Capstone Communities where he has developed market rate, mixed-income, and 100% affordable housing. Sean D. Hope Esq, a fourth-generation Cantabrigian, is the founder and principal of Hope Ventures and Hope Real Estate Enterprises LLC in Central Square Cambridge. Sean has leveraged his experience as a Land Use attorney and former member of the Cambridge Zoning Board to develop over 50 units of 100% affordable housing developments in Cambridge. Mathieu Zahler, Principal, of MPZ Development has more than 19 years of experience in both the design and construction industry and the field of real estate development. His firm works with public agencies, local organizations, and other entities to create smaller-scale mixed-income, multi-family, and mixed-use residential developments across Massachusetts. 

BLDUP: How did you get into real estate development?

Sean Hope (Hope Real Estate):  My grandparents immigrated from Barbados to Cambridge in search of better opportunities that would allow them to provide for their family. One thing that they ingrained in me from a young age was the value of owning your own property. My grandparents, relying on the G.I. bill, were fortunate to own multi-families properties in Cambridge, and I grew up helping out with the day-to-day operations of these properties. These experiences became my first education with managing residential real estate and inspired me to pursue my J.D. and become a real estate development.

During law school, I was an associate member of the Cambridge Zoning Board, which not only provided me with background on the regulatory side of real estate, but also gave me a greater appreciation for how municipal legislation can impact communities and the demographics of a city.

Following that experience, I cut my teeth in the financial side of the development world through partnering with Capstone on our project Port Landing, a 20-unit 100% affordable development located in the heart of Cambridge, MA. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a wide-array of different real estate projects including affordable housing, luxury, single family, and commercial real estate. My continued passion for placemaking and community has led me to what I’m doing today as an entrepreneur.

BLDUP: What makes a “good project” for your firm?

Sean Hope (Hope Real Estate): A good project to me is one that maximizes impact. Whether that impact be today or decades from now, I seek out projects whose legacy will perpetuate for years to come. One of the most rewarding aspects of the development world is watching a building come alive and seeing families or individuals experience the spaces we’ve created. 

We continue to be in a housing crisis and by creating both affordable and market-rate properties, we’re playing an active role in working to mitigate the supply shortage and improve equitable access to housing.

BLDUP: You’ve worked on several adaptive reuse projects, what are the additional challenges you’ve run into on these types of projects vs. new construction, are there benefits you have found?

Jason Korb (Capstone Communities):  Adaptive reuse projects require a heightened degree of creativity and flexibility. For example, with the McElwain School Apartments in Bridgewater, which I partnered with MPZ Development on, we had to develop a variety of one, two, and three-bedroom apartments within the existing school classrooms layouts. In addition to dimensional structure, we also had to take into consideration the historic nature of existing buildings which may complicate modern components such as HVAC and duct-work systems.  

That being said, the benefits of adaptive reuse far outweigh the challenges. Our residents often remark they’re living in HGTV apartments because repurposing existing buildings often means the preservation of original elements such as high ceilings, exposed masonry, and original wood floors. Distinct features of historic buildings such as ornate trim and doors and original floors aren’t something that can be recreated. We don't produce many buildings that have an incredible amount of detail on the inside anymore, so it’s important to us to preserve these historic structures.

BLDUP: Thoughts on the future of Boston-Area development given new regulations? How can the industry build more affordable/workforce housing?

Jason Korb (Capstone Communities): I strongly believe that all-electric is the future of development and developing buildings that achieve net-zero emission is critical moving forward. The path towards all-electric is not just something that’s important in the Greater Boston area, but for all of Massachusetts.

I’m proud to be working in partnership with MPZ Development and the Town of Templeton to bring the first multi-family building that their community has permitted in the last 25-years. This building, the Baldwinville School Apartments, will be our first all-electric development. I think our future is bright if we continue on this path. My most recent project to deliver with MPZ was The McElwain School Apartments, a 57-unit, mixed-income development that includes a newly-built residential component that is the first Passive House multifamily building (PHIUS) to open in Plymouth County.

Additionally, I think that Gov. Healey’s proposed Affordable Housing Bill along with the recently enacted $20M increase in state Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (for a new total of $60M) are the most significant housing investments we’ve seen in our lifetime and will play a critical role in driving both housing production and preservation in Massachusetts. 

BLDUP: How have current market conditions (rising interest rates, construction costs) affected your pipeline?

Mathieu Zahler (MPZ Development): Rising interest rates and increased construction costs are impacting all of us in the development space which affects the availability of capital and slows down the speed at which deals can occur. Additionally, these factors have increased the cost of permanent financing, which has a significant impact on the affordable housing space. These challenges have made us more resilient in navigating the current housing market, but I’m optimistic about what the future holds for MPZ.

BLDUP: What project are you most excited about?

Mathieu Zahler (MPZ Development):  The project I’m most excited about heading into 2024 is my project with Capstone Communities, the Baldwinville School Apartments in Templeton. This will be the first multifamily housing building permitted in Templeton in 25 years, that will include 54 units of housing, 49 of which will be affordable. Through this project, we’ll have the opportunity to breathe new life into this beloved school building and preserve its historic elements. 

We recently were honored to receive $750,000 in Community Preservation Act Funding from the Town of Templeton and $750,000 in Community One Stop for Growth Funding through MassDevelopment. We are proud to have received cumulative $1.924M in CPA funding from the Town of Templeton, a testament to the town’s commitment to creating high-quality, affordable housing options and preserving buildings of historic significance. If we are able to secure all the needed financing for this project, we’re excited to break ground in 2024.