“What are we doing with the building to make it more than just a building?”
The question comes from NRP co-founder David Heller. It’s a familiar one to Ken Weinberg, NRP’s Vice President of Construction. “It’s his focal point,” says Weinberg. “We’ll be in an executive committee meeting discussing whether or not to move forward on a project.” Weinberg smiles. “You’d think he’d be focusing on the numbers, the metrics. But all he wants to know is ‘What are we doing to make the building more of a partnership with the residents and the city?’”
More than Just a Building: “Home” as Change Agent
Affordable housing gives transformative power to individuals. That was the motivating principle behind Cleveland, Ohio’s NRP Group when David Heller and his co-founders founded the company in 1994. Though the builder has since added market-rate development, third-party construction, and third-party property management to its portfolio, at its core the NRP Group still sees development as a cultural undertaking––housing as a social determinant of health, well-being, and personal growth.
“This is our third project of this type,” says Weinberg of NRP’s Churchill Gateway project. The Churchill Gateway project will be built in partnership with University Hospitals.
“We look at it as more than just putting a roof over somebody’s head,” Weinberg explains. ”We’re trying to see how we can improve lives and communities.”
Partnering with University Hospitals—an employer of some 28,000 physicians and medical support personnel, located a mile away—NRP will be developing a first-floor 2,500-square-foot Community Outreach Center. The potential to include health education and workforce training to Churchill Gateway residents onsite puts NRP’s Churchill Gateway project at the meaningful new intersection of housing, health education, and opportunity.
On the occasion of NRP’s 25th anniversary in 2019, none other than Henry Cisneros — previous Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the Clinton administration — publicly extolled NRP’s virtues. The NRP Group has long been a beloved and respected entity in its home state of Ohio; not to mention Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and elsewhere.
Then came COVID.
Improvising to Success
When the COVID pandemic hit and civic authorities began shutting down communal activities and workplaces, NRP had 39 active construction projects in operation across several states. Thirty seven of those projects would remain in operation, and the two that stopped were down only a number of weeks combined. It was an amazing effort to keep everything rolling, particularly given the rapid growth of NRP’s third party general contracting business. NRP is projecting over 2,000 units of third-party construction in 2020.
“It was pivotal that we keep the work going,” says Ryan Berkhouse, Vice President of Construction Safety at The NRP Group.
NRP’s construction work was deemed essential, but that wouldn’t matter if the builder couldn’t quickly lock in the brand new COVID-era mandated protocols. How was this done?
“We improvised and mobilized,” says Berkhouse. “We quickly developed a COVID task force where senior leadership gets together to discuss the work in different jurisdictions.”
NRP had to meet a checkerboard of state, county, and even city-mandated site rules for their scattered projects. Berkhouse continues.
“Together with Dan Brenner, our counsel for the construction side, we were constantly looking at the shifting state mandates and guidelines, as well as the shifting COVID 19 plans and reporting requirements. For instance, in Boston we had to have nurses on site on some of our projects taking worker temperatures.”
There were many issues that had to be overcome. “PPE was a serious shortage in those early days. We couldn’t find washable face coverings for people.” Berkhouse pauses and shakes his head in mild wonder. “I reached out to a local resource and, through some back and forth discussion she ended up sewing masks for NRP. It was… amazing! Great for us and great for the community.”
“These guys did an amazing job of communicating with all stakeholders,” interjects Adam Siegal, Vice President Marketing for The NRP Group. “Whether it was subs, our own people, or our third-party clients—everyone knew exactly what the game plan was. They were churning out policies, communications, and travel papers—it was an amazing undertaking.”
Ken Weinberg adds, “Let’s face it—it’s thanks to Procore that we’re all still able to do this work.”
The Bond with Specialty Contractors: Rising Together
Someone had mentioned earlier that NRP’s success is owed to long-term relationships with their specialty contractors. What is meant by that? “We look at our subs as our partners,” says Weinberg. “Not as hires to do a job. We work with them to get the best overall product—not just focusing on ‘…did I get it for the lowest price?’”
Understanding the primacy of the specialty contractor is one thing. Making sure the rubber meets the road, so to speak, is the other thing, as Weinberg goes on to explain.
“The NRP Group has a great reputation for payment on-time in the industry. We all know that construction draws get delayed with all the different layers of approval needed. Look, if you have your paperwork submitted you are paid on time, regardless of NRP getting funded from the bank. There have been many times our president of construction drew on a line of credit to pay subcontractors before our drawer gets funded. That is how seriously he takes it.”
“We work closely with our subcontractors,” says Chance Louis, The NRP Group’s Director of Construction Services. “A lot of our subcontractors have been with NRP since day one. That’s not industry standard. We’re going to create a win-win with our subcontractors, and our subs appreciate that. We’re going to rise together.”
On the subject of rising together; even as NRP continually adds to its 26-year legacy of celebrated affordable multifamily and award-winning market-rate expertise, they are expanding into third-party construction and third-party O&M. Despite the broadening service lines, their core “DNA”—as Adam Siegal called it—will continue feeding The NRP Group’s animating spirit—building as an act of unstoppable optimism.