Dan Coakley of PMG Affordable: “Never lose sight of putting people first”

Focus on partnering with the right people and the right organizations. For instance, the Tampa Housing Authority who we are working with on Robles Park Village is the gold standard of all organizations we have worked with in the past. It is so important to find organizations, places or people that share your vision and […]

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Focus on partnering with the right people and the right organizations. For instance, the Tampa Housing Authority who we are working with on Robles Park Village is the gold standard of all organizations we have worked with in the past. It is so important to find organizations, places or people that share your vision and value structure.

In many large cities in the US, there is a crisis caused by a shortage of affordable housing options. This has led to a host of social challenges. In this series called “How We Are Helping to Make Housing More Affordable” We are talking to successful business leaders, real estate leaders, and builders, who share the initiatives they are undertaking to create more affordable housing options in the US.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Coakley

As Principal of PMG Affordable, Dan is responsible for all aspects of the business, including acquisitions of development sites and existing assets, relationships with venture partners and housing authorities and the execution of financing and development. Dan has 23 years of direct real estate experience having started his career at Lehman Brothers where he worked as a Principal in its real estate private equity business for several years.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Growing up with hard working parents instilled a strong work ethic as one of my founding principles. Throughout school, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to business and started working in government after graduation. Until my mid 20’s, I didn’t have a firm direction as to where I wanted to go in life. I went into work in Wall Street because I saw my friends from college achieving success there, and most importantly, I needed to make money and provide for my family. That work eventually led me to the real estate industry and the private equity business, and it was good luck and happenstance that I ended up there with little Wall Street experience, because working in real estate turned out to be what I absolutely love doing. Bringing it home even more, my dad grew up in public housing and saw his single working mother to get her family through and persistently worked hard to achieve success. Because I witnessed this first hand, these values have been with me throughout my entire career path and are a guiding factor for the affordable housing work I do today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

When I was working at Lehman Brothers, I worked on providing financing for the Chrysler Building. I got close with the ownership there and was allowed private access to the Cloud Club, a beautiful, former hidden club from the days of prohibition located at the top of the building that overlooks all of Manhattan. That is where I proposed to my wife. It has since been demolished, but it was one of the most interesting and fulfilling stories I have in my career because it led to my marriage with my wife and is something I will never forget.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

A huge tipping point in my career when I began to truly experience success was when I found my way to real estate private equity within the investment banking industry. I never was really comfortable on the pure investment banking side because I went in without a lot of direction and above all didn’t feel it was the best fit for me in the long run. After a year, I found my way to the real estate private equity arm of Lehman Brothers, and that’s when I felt like I was truly home. The real estate industry is full of interesting characters, successful developers and humble beginnings, and once I got there, it was the first time I felt like I really found my niche.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

On the personal side, I am grateful for my wife for being there throughout the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur. As we all know, it requires a lot of support given the uncertainty that defines being in your own business, and for that I owe a lot to her.

On the professional side, I am grateful for my experience working with Kevin Maloney, the founder and managing partner of PMG, for over ten years. When we started doing business together at Northstar, I was his funding source for equity and debt. We did many deals together and got to be very close personally. He was really the one that made me believe that I could be a real estate developer, and his coaching and support throughout this transition gave me the confidence to believe I could do it. I’ve always had the utmost respect for developers, and working with Kevin was extremely impactful in kick starting this chapter of my career and making me believe I could achieve similar success.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

The Triumph of the American Imagination, the biography of Walt Disney, has had an immense impact on my way of thinking. While he had such a unique and forward vision early on, he was dismissed and called unimaginative. He believed in his own vision and his ideas and ended up changing the world. I have always been drawn to people who have an unshakeable determination and confidence in what they believe, and his story of facing failure and forgoing what the naysayers say has really resonated with me.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is “the credit belongs to the man in the arena” by Theodore Roosevelt. I actually enlarged the speech, changed “man” to “woman” and gave it to my daughter because it means so much to me. To me, the speech is about realizing that while there will always be people on the sidelines trying to tear you down, it’s the people who are trying and persevering through failure who make real change. It’s the people who are in the fight who matter the most.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the shortage of affordable housing. Lack of affordable housing has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities. I know this is a huge topic, but for the benefit of our readers can you briefly explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

Over that period of time and longer, there has been an exponential increase in income inequality. The spread between the top tier of earners and those who are struggling and earning at the lower end of the spectrum has gotten so stark. The middle class has shrunk in a huge way, but at the same time, the wages at a lot of these jobs in big cities have not gone up proportionally with the rising housing costs. In the last 5 to 10 years, income inequality has risen disproportionately and that has led to the middle class shrinking and housing costs going up with no corresponding wage increase, which is where I believe the root of the problem lies.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact to address this crisis? Can you share some of the initiatives you are leading to help correct this issue?

Through PMG Affordable, we are working on supportive housing projects in Queens, New York, that targets in large measure very low income communities and formerly homeless people to give them opportunities to have dignified, affordable housing.

In Tampa, we have been responsible for putting a master plan together for the redevelopment of Robles Park Village, a large public housing community. The plan looks at affordable housing in a new and revolutionary way by combining market-rate rental and for-sale housing and incorporating a major and central component of supportive services and access to opportunity. It really demonstrates how public housing from the 50’s-60’s wasn’t successful because it promoted a concentration of poverty and those with very low income all together without any support or services necessary to help them get to the next level and step in life. At Robles Park Village, we are most proud of planning a Hub Building (a resource center) which will be 50,000 square feet of staffed resources to help guide people through the steps to improve their life. We will offer job training, access to jobs and different economic opportunities, healthcare and primary care providers on-site, among many more important services. The physical housing is just one piece of providing quality, affordable housing, and really shines light to the larger crisis at hand. If you provide beautiful housing without access to wrap around services and opportunities, housing is all the people will get. For affordable housing to truly work, access to services to aid in moving up in life needs to be at the forefront of the efforts. While it’s not that this type of plan is necessarily a new concept, the large-scale extent of which we are implementing our affordable housing plan hasn’t really been done before.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

The affordable housing crisis is an issue that is personal to me because my father grew up in public housing. His mother paid $9 a month in rent, and without having that, they most likely wouldn’t have been able to get through. Hearing it first hand from your family really makes you see the crisis in a different light. For that, my experiences of being part of planning the redevelopment of Robles Park Village has fostered such a personal connection for me. When we held community meetings with the residents of Robles, children would flock to us after school and ask questions about our plans and presentations. Seeing these kids who have such high goals and aspirations was such an emotional and touching experience, and it re-established to me that every child should have every available opportunity to grow and achieve their dreams.

In your opinion, what should other home builders do to further address these problems?

Through our redevelopment plan at Robles Park Village, we hope to make it a blueprint for what we can roll out on a national basis and other markets. We truly hope to set an example for how affordable housing can be implemented in a transformative and new way, specifically how beneficial and crucial it is to combine market-rate rental properties with for-sale housing in affordable housing developments, as well as significant and central supportive services and access to opportunities. We hope other developers and home builders replicate that. New affordable housing development will only spur more development, and there can never be enough room for more affordable housing. In the same breath, there needs to be more done at the federal, state and local levels to provide more funding available for additional projects to be built, so that also plays a huge role in addressing these problems.

Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this crisis? Can you give some examples?

I think society needs to recognize that to address the root of this crisis, we need to first agree that safe, secure and quality affordable housing is a basic right that all people should have access to. We all need to embrace that idea and that while the United States is the richest country in the world, we are only as good as we provide for the most vulnerable. We really are all in this together, and I think that is the most important ideal that society needs to understand.

If you had the power to influence legislation, are there laws which you would like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

Right now, legislation is on the floor of congress with the new administration that would focus on affordable housing, and I would like to see any legislation introduced that provides more funding and incentives on the federal, state and local levels. The need for affordable housing has never been greater and the current funding available is not adequate enough. I am a proponent for an increase in the minimum wage to give more people the opportunity to increase their quality of life. I’d like to see better access to health care, including mental health care, and overall a decriminalization of drug use in favor of second chances for people with addictions rather than criminalization.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Building a company is different than just doing deals. Up until I began helping to build PMG Affordable, I was very transaction and deal oriented. I have realized it takes a long time to build a successful, real business rather than just doing deals, and with that long-term commitment I learned having patience is very important.

2. Looking back on it, I wish I focused earlier on being a better manager of people. I have come to see how important that is and I wish I had that advice from the beginning. As a deal oriented person, I was doing everything myself, but I have since learned that in building a business, you need to have a good team and be consistent to empower them.

3. Focus on partnering with the right people and the right organizations. For instance, the Tampa Housing Authority who we are working with on Robles Park Village is the gold standard of all organizations we have worked with in the past. It is so important to find organizations, places or people that share your vision and value structure.

4. Play to your strengths. For a while, we tried to compete in buying small affordable housing sites, but when you do that, you’re competing against the world. One immense benefit of PMG Affordable is that we have the ability to leverage a substantial institution such as being an arm of an experienced real estate developer like PMG, which has led us to have an impact on a much larger level.

5. Never lose sight of putting people first. At the end of the day, we are here to create for people and the greater good. Everything from our day to day interactions to larger decisions on deals affects a multitude of people and we are responsible for each of those interactions’ ripple effects.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Stepping out of affordable housing, a movement I really care about is the mental health care crisis for adolescents in this country today. Access to quality mental health care is limited and needs to be increased, and we need to work harder to destigmatize mental health concerns. Along with adolescents, the homeless population is also largely affected by the mental health care crisis and it’s beyond necessary to increase services available to affected communities.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have a private lunch with Van Jones, a CNN contributor and political activist. I have respect for his conviction and honesty of which he pursues his life. The way he listens to and wants to work with people of all viewpoints sets an example for the kind of tone we need to go back to in this country. He is very inclusionary and an example of civil discourse I really admire.

How can our readers further follow your work online?



This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.

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