Arturo “A.J.” Tablada, a Notre Dame science-business major who graduated from ESTEEM in 2015, has taken his entrepreneurial skills and passion for positive change to Carrfour Supportive Housing in Miami, fulfilling his childhood passion for real estate development while helping individuals overcome homelessness and poverty. He is a housing developer for the nonprofit whose multifamily units bring together a mix of residents, from individuals who are formerly homeless to those who can pay market rates, with in-house support consisting of life skills training, financial literacy, and mental health services, amongst other supportive services.
“The unique part of our work is in our partnerships with nonprofits already working in the neighborhoods we develop in, housing them in our buildings’ community spaces,” says Tablada, who joined Carrfour in 2018. One 80-unit building he is developing includes a clubhouse and kitchen where a local agency, The Key Clubhouse, will train individuals with mental illness the skills to become chefs or waiters, for example, as well as offer a business services area for additional corporate training.
Successful development of affordable housing requires navigating a host of regulations, governmental agencies, low-income housing tax credits, real estate land acquisitions, zoning, due diligence, budgeting, finance, and construction management – just like running a successful startup, Tablada says. He works with attorneys, real estate agents, government officials, architects, engineers, general contractors, lenders, equity partners, accountants and others. Like entrepreneurship, real estate development requires being able to wear multiple hats in multiple roles.
“It takes several years and a big team of people to come together – 100 to 200 people,” he says, adding that some project budgets are upwards of $30 million. “I really treasure my experience with ESTEEM. It really taught me the values of entrepreneurship and, most importantly, the ways we can understand each other as human beings and have that emotional intelligence to connect with people of very different backgrounds.
“You have a vision. You create this vision before you ever secure financing. You close the deal, and slowly but surely, you make progress toward building that vision and community. Through this work, you can leave an imprint on your neighborhoods just as startups do for their end users.”
Carrfour, which has built more than 2,000 units in 25 years, is expanding across Florida from its Miami base. Tablada’s first project, an 18-unit rehabilitation, is completed, and two new developments that broke ground in 2019 will be completed this spring.
“Development is entrepreneurship on a very large scale,” he says. “The more I dive deep into it, the more I see both lining up. It includes teambuilding and bringing people together for that common cause, even in the details of financial projections and spreadsheets of how you’re doing on your budget. Every deal has to survive on its own – just like every company. But even deeper than that, it's about the fundamental question of, what does this neighborhood, what does this user need or want, and how can we deliver it?”