Advancing Workforce Housing
Zions Bank client provides affordable rentals in L.A.
When Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS.harvard.edu) released this year’s “State of the Nation’s Housing” report, one key concern was America’s lack of affordable rental housing. In California, the problem is particularly pronounced. Nearly 60 percent of Los Angeles renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to the center.
For Ram Mittal, a Zions Bank client and president and CEO of Swami International (SwamiRentals.com), addressing these concerns is part of his everyday business. Mittal’s company owns 2,400 rental units in the LA area, catering to low- and moderate-income residents. Mittal is expanding the availability of workforce housing by acquiring multifamily buildings, improving them and ultimately providing safe, quality homes for tenants.
“Housing is not all for profit,” Mittal says. “I think you’ve got to have a softer side to it where you’re helping somebody.”
Streamlining Property Management
Even though Mittal is focused on a higher mission, he relies on key business fundamentals, such as keeping costs down and building relationships. Mittal starts by purchasing apartment buildings and rental properties using a Zions Bank line of credit. He closes in half the time of other loan products and with costs about a quarter less than market rates.
“That gives him an advantage as a buyer because he’s able to say there’s no financing contingency, and he can close in a quick manner,” says Jeffrey Holt, senior vice president of Zions’ Real Estate Banking Group.
Along with these advantages, Mittal owns a hardware store so he can upgrade properties with wholesale supplies directly from China and India. This cuts his renovation and maintenance costs in half, and he can still incorporate upgrades like granite countertops and bamboo floors.
“Every building I buy, I have a picture of what it’s going to look like down the road,” Mittal says.
Part of choosing the right properties is a careful analysis of his cash flow and improvement costs. With the help of Zions Bank, Mittal established an office in India to handle his financial needs. This saves money and allows Mittal to send data analysis assignments to India in the evening and have results by morning because of the time difference.
Finally, Mittal uses his own maintenance techs, resident property managers and office staff to respond quickly to tenants.
Keeping Housing Affordable
Ultimately, these measures mean Mittal can pass on his savings in the form of lower rents. Affordable prices, upgraded properties and high customer service keep tenant satisfaction and occupancy high. Mittal’s vacancy rate is only about 3 percent compared to 5 percent for other area rentals.
“You see the before-and-after pictures of what he’s done to those properties and you think of the folks who will be living in something nice and affordable and contributing to their communities,” Holt says. “It’s really a great thing.”
Despite 30-plus years in the business, Mittal’s mission of acquiring and rehabbing properties continues. He hopes to eventually reach $1 billion in assets while doing his part to relieve the affordable housing challenges in his area.
“The objective is not to maximize the profit,” Mittal says. “The objective is to maximize the contribution to society.”