When Raymond James Tax Credit Funds and Raymond James Bank partnered in support of affordable housing, they leveraged key connections to create a community far greater than the sum of its parts.

Raymond James has always recognized the power of connections. Whether between advisor and client, banker and institution, or company and community, the firm believes that strengthening the threads that connect us is more than the right way to do business, it is a powerful, strategic approach to growth.

That approach served us well in 2016 as we continued to nurture long-running relationships and cultivate new ones that put the firm in an even better position to pursue opportunities.

In early 2012, a smattering of Key West-style houses – painted in beachy greens, blues and yellows – sat empty, surrounded by graded lots on 10 acres in Lealman just outside of the incorporated boundaries of St. Petersburg, Florida.

A holdover from the housing bubble and subsequent real estate market collapse, the structures were originally intended to be part of a planned community – just like many others that had sprung up across Tampa Bay in the months before the 2008/2009 meltdown. To some, they might have represented the excessive exuberance that precipitated the extreme downturn, but to Raymond James Tax Credit Funds and its partners, they represented hope.

In 2014, the state of Florida directed a portion of its allocated low-income housing tax credits to the development of homes for disabled residents, issuing a first-of-its-kind request for application (RFA) for developments that would offer permanent supportive housing for veterans with a disabling condition.

“This is becoming more of a trend throughout the industry,” said Sean Jones, director of acquisitions at Tax Credit Funds, “but this was the state’s first venture into the space, so it was a pretty big deal … for the state, for the developer, for us, for everyone involved.”

Thanks to relationships with Boley Centers and ServiceSource, nonprofits whose primary missions are providing treatment, rehabilitation and supportive services for Pinellas County residents with disabilities, Tax Credit Funds was in a prime position to help when another partner decided to respond to the state’s call.

That process began when Shawn Wilson, president of Blue Sky Communities and a longtime affordable housing developer, made his own call to Raymond James.

“Shawn shared that he and his team were considering responding to the RFA and asked what we knew about Boley. He looked to us for expertise and, essentially, backup – What data do you have on previous veterans projects? What do you know about the subsidy? – as he prepared for the application process,” Sean said.

Shawn had worked with Tax Credit Funds before. In fact, his partnership with the group on a development for low-income seniors called 540 Town Center had connected him to fellow affordable housing developer and future business partner Jim Chadwick. Together the pair, along with Chief Financial Officer Scott Macdonald, formed Blue Sky Communities, and the veterans project would mark Shawn’s first as a company owner.

After applying for and being granted the tax credits and some funds from the state, Blue Sky purchased the Lealman land, complete with the four brightly hued homes still waiting to be filled.

Next up was finding the right investor to provide construction financing and equity. Fortunately, an ideal partner was close at hand.

Just one parking lot away from the Tax Credit Funds offices, a group at Raymond James Bank dedicated to community reinvestment was looking for a new opportunity.

“Working with the bank was like working with any other investor,” said Steve Kropf, president of Tax Credit Funds. “They had a need, our developer partner had a need and, ultimately, we were the intermediary to help everyone meet their objectives.”

With the bank on board, the team broke ground on the newly christened Duval Park on November 10, 2014, the day before Veterans Day, accompanied by an honor guard and the sound of bagpipes.

A bird’s-eye view of the 10-acre campus of Duval Park, which borders Joe’s Creek Greenway Park and its public trails.

Alongside those first four houses, 84 additional one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments were built, each constructed with nearly 20 features for wheelchair users and those with other special needs. The surrounding acreage was rounded out with a clubhouse, indoor and outdoor fitness areas, a playground, a pool and a gazebo.

The community also employs two full-time case managers who provide an array of resident services including financial and credit counseling, and employment counseling and placement.

“It’s not just housing,” said Laurel Macdonald, president of Carteret Management, “It’s housing and the services these residents need to live independently and have successful lives going forward.”

“We actually have a few veterans on our team, including Ted Long at the bank, who worked on this deal,” said Sean. “To see how excited they were to be part of something that was helping fellow veterans was pretty powerful.”

Completed in December 2015 for a total development cost of $17 million, the project reached stabilization in February 2016. Beyond Tax Credit Funds, Raymond James Bank, Blue Sky and Boley, a handful of other key players helped make Duval Park a reality. According to Sean, “There were many partnerships – both external and internal to Raymond James – working to ensure this project was a success, from service providers to management agents to construction folks and financing partners.”

Today, Duval Park is home to 71 veterans and their families, many of whom have overcome significant adversity and patiently waited their turn on a growing list to get into a place they say has given them a true sense of community.

“People basically feel like they won the lottery when they make it into these communities. It changes people’s lives in a big way,” said Steve. “To give a failed development from the housing crash new purpose was so gratifying,” he added. “We were able to take something blighted and turn it into a sought-after home for veterans. It’s a great example of the power of our business, and of the positive impact we can have on communities.”