This Black-owned real estate firm has put over $700 million into affordable urban housing

BY Preta Peace Namasaba April 9, 2024 6:13 AM EDT
James H. Simmons III. Photo credit: Princeton University

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a record-breaking number of families cannot afford a decent place to call home. There is a shortage of more than seven million affordable homes for the America’s more than 10 million extremely low-income families. With 70 percent of extremely low-income families paying more than half of their income on rent, opportunities to increase earnings are constrained. Research shows that the affordable housing shortage costs the American economy around $2 trillion annually in lower wages and productivity. Increasing access to affordable housing has the potential to increase economic growth.

Asland Capital Partners, a Black-owned real estate investment firm focused on urban renewal and workforce housing, is making urban housing affordable and sustainable. Led by James H. Simmons III, the firm has committed more than $700 million in equity to projects that involve adaptive reuse, workforce housing, and affordable multifamily residences.

Simmons founded his own real estate private equity with over three decades of experience. He holds a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and computer science from Princeton University, a master’s in systems engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and an M.M. from Northwestern University’s J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management in Finance and Marketing. Simmons spent his early career at Salomon Smith Barney as a derivatives trader, at Bankers Trust in equity research on emerging tech companies, and General Electric as an Edison Engineer.

He ventured into the world of real estate as the President and CEO of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation. Simmons played a prominent role in the second renaissance of Harlem at the turn of the 21st century. He went on to become a partner at AREA Property Partners (formerly Apollo Real Estate Advisors) where he managed a series of institutional real estate private equity funds and separate accounts for nearly two decades. Simmons then became a partner at Ares Management, a real estate private equity firm. While at the former, he established and managed the company’s $485 million Domestic Emerging Markets Fund from 2013 to 2018.

Working in real estate, Simmons realized that as firms grew and matured, they were no longer the small firms that resembled start-up alternative investment companies. He formed Asland in 2019 to replicate the success of accomplished investment managers. Simmons envisioned a firm that simultaneously reflects entrepreneurial values and tackles the longstanding supply and demand imbalance within the affordable housing sector. 

“Real estate is one asset class that touches all of our lives daily including where we live, work, and play. It is also a career that can be rewarding in many ways including providing much needed shelter and affordable housing, positively changing neighborhoods for the better, and giving professionals a path to wealth creation for themselves and the communities that they invest in,” Simmons said about how real estate can transform lives.

Asland is working at the intersection of real estate, public policy, urbanism, and technology. Its mission is to acquire, reposition, and operate best-in-class multifamily, mixed-use, and retail assets across the United States that improve communities and enhance the lives of residents. Although municipalities have emphasized implementing programs and policies to retain and create affordable housing alternatives, American cities and towns still struggle to provide residents with adequate housing opportunities. The cost of construction materials, and labor, and the lack of availability of developable land limit the production of additional housing units, thwarting the concerted efforts of elected officials and housing agencies.

Last year, Asland teamed up with Goldman Sachs (GS) Asset Management’s Urban Investment Group (UIG) to launch the Asland Sustainable Housing Fund (ASH). Simmons’ longstanding relationship with the investment bank’s asset management arm has been fundamental in the creation of the housing fund. Although the fund has a national focus, it has initially put $250 million toward affordable housing and mixed-income multifamily transactions throughout the New York City metropolitan region.

Asland has committed more than $700 million in equity to projects that involve adaptive reuse, workforce housing, and affordable multifamily residences. Simmons’ goal is to make the firm the preeminent fiduciary of its client’s capital and to provide residents with a world-class living experience.