Columbia Residential has hired Carmen Chubb, an experienced public-sector executive, as president to help the developer “double the size” of its affordable housing construction to meet rapidly increasing need, CEO Jim Grauley told Atlanta Civic Circle.
Columbia, one of Atlanta’s best-known affordable housing developers, owns and manages more than 6,500 mixed-income and below-market-rate multifamily units inside the I-285 Perimeter alone, with a portfolio spanning Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas.
But the need for affordable housing is magnitudes greater than what’s available, as rents in Atlanta and elsewhere continue to spike, Grauley said. “We’re producing as much as anybody, and we’re still not getting near what needs to be done,” he said, adding that Columbia has about 45 projects in metro Atlanta, with more under construction.
Chubb’s addition positions Columbia to substantially grow its Southern footprint, Grauley said, following the death of its visionary founder and CEO, Noel Khalil, last fall.
“Carmen is going to give us the capacity to really increase the size and scale of what we’re doing because of her capabilities. She will hit the ground running,” he said, citing her experience navigating the public subsidies that private developers depend on to build affordable housing.
Most recently, Chubb was the chief of staff for former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, after spending 23 years as a top executive — the last seven as deputy commissioner — at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), which funds private affordable housing development through tax credits.
“We would love to double the size of what we’re doing,” Grauley said, adding that Chubb’s years of DCA experience will strengthen Columbia’s working relationships with the government agencies that administer affordable housing funding.
“We’re not going to do that if we stick with the same financing tools that we have today,” he cautioned.
“If you want affordable housing, it has to have subsidy, because the cost is essentially what the cost is of market-rate housing,” Grauley said, adding that new public funding mechanisms are needed, such as the city’s newly legislated affordable housing trust fund program.
Khalil, who founded Columbia in 1991, died in October, at 70, after a years-long battle with cancer. His passing left some titanic shoes to fill, Grauley said. “When you reflect on the loss of somebody who was such an inspirational leader, it redoubles your efforts and intent to fulfill the mission — and expand the mission,” he said.
Chubb will help Columbia carry on Khalil’s vision of “building cathedrals for God’s children,” Grauley said, by producing high-quality housing that low- and moderate-income families can afford.
At Columbia, Chubb will oversee new multifamily development, asset management, and unit preservation.
“I chose to take this job because … when I was contemplating my next steps, it had to be work that moved the needle in community development and affordable housing,” she told Atlanta Civic Circle.
Chubb said that, for her, creating high-quality affordable housing is personal. Growing up in Atlanta as the daughter of a single mother with four children, she said, her family was constantly worried about housing security.
“We were blessed that we were able to keep our home, but I saw my mother struggle,” she said. “I know the fear of not being able to afford your housing — or, if you can, how you’re making sacrifices with other things.”
Chubb said her top priority at Columbia is to accelerate the production of affordable units that are also good places to live. “People deserve to live in places that they can be proud to live in, that have access to community amenities like transportation and good schools.”
Chubb’s government expertise could help Columbia develop more transit-oriented projects, like one of its latest projects, Columbia Senior Residences at Decatur East, near the Avondale MARTA station.
Located at 590 East Freeman Street, the mixed-income complex already has 92 apartments for people aged 62 and older. Phase 2, announced in November, will produce another 80 units — and 70 of those are priced for households earning under 60% of the area median income, with 24 for very low-income households.
The project’s financing hinges on a highly competitive, federal and state-funded 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credit issued by DCA, with additional funding from Decatur.