First National ventures into affordable housing loans

First Nationl
First National Denver is now making affordable housing loans to developers in the Denver area, Northern Colorado and the mountains.

First National Denver long has provided commercial real estate loans to acquire and refinance offices, retail, warehouses, apartments, motels and hotels.

Now the community bank, whose parent, First National Bank of Santa Fe was chartered in 1870, making it the first bank in the Southwest, is expanding into affordable housing.

First National Denver plans to support acquisition, rehabilitation and construction of affordable housing commercial real estate projects throughout Colorado.

It has tapped Meredith Johnson, who has 18 years of experience in affordable housing, to lead its efforts.

Given rising real estate prices and a growing concern about an affordability crisis, the time is right to provide affordable housing loans, she said.

“Affordable housing is a very hot topic,” Johnson said.

“Our goal is to work in partnership with nonprofit organizations, developers and public policy officials to develop solutions to Colorado’s mounting housing challenges,” said Johnson, head of the affordable housing commercial real estate operation at First National.

“Our community-centric approach to banking complements like-minded developers and nonprofits passionate about preserving and expanding affordable housing in our community,” Johnson added.

Johnson is a commercial banker with expertise in affordable housing and low- income housing tax credits.

“We will be very focused on the Front Range, and communities in Denver and its suburbs, but we also have offices in Northern Colorado and the mountains,” she noted.

“We will have some generous concentration limits,” said Johnson, who didn’t want to put a number on how big the business might become.

Initially, the bank will focus on the debt side and later will become involved with low-income housing tax credits.

“We will have strong relationships with syndicators and borrowers who are looking at the piece of the affordable housing puzzle,” she said.

She applauded Denver City Council’s recent decision to approve an ordinance that would raise $150 million over the next 10 years to build and preserve current affordable housing stock.

The money would be raised by fees assessed on homeowners and developers. Many developers think it unfairly targets them for a citywide challenge.

Before the council vote, Johnson participated in a luncheon hosted by Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock to get input from various stakeholders.

The demand for affordable housing is so great that she wouldn’t be surprised if the city at some point amends the ordinance.

“It is a good baby step,” Johnson said.

She sees an opportunity for affordable housing along rail stops.

“There is a lot of opportunity between Union Station and the airport for transit-oriented developments,” Johnson said.

Jonathan Smith, executive vice president and head of the commercial real estate division at First National Denver, said the bank will make affordable banking decisions quickly with attractive financing packages.

“Our designated affordable housing team is equipped to offer a simplified lending process and competitive rates,” Smith said.

“At First National Denver, we recognize the urgent need for more affordable housing in Denver and have equipped our team to make decisions quickly so developers can secure the financing they need to expand housing for our community.”

First National’s commercial real estate division focuses on high-quality, nonowner-occupied real estate projects in Colorado. CRE customers range from homebuilders to real estate investment trusts.

Featured in CREJ’s Nov. 2-18 issue

John Rebchook has been taking the pulse of the Denver-area and Colorado commercial real estate world for almost 35 years. He joined the editorial staff of CREJ in 2011. Prior to that, he was the Real Estate Editor of the Rocky Mountain News from 1983 until it closed in 2009.