Developer Martin Dunn has come a long way since he was fired from his post as executive director of the East New York Urban Youth Corps in 1998.
These days even his former boss Winchester Key can’t say anything against him. Key was chairman of the East New York Urban Youth Corps Board, who had Dunn fired after Dunn refused to hand a bid over to DeCosta Headley, a politically well connected developer, who wanted a construction bid that Dunn refused to grant.
“Martin Dunn was an excellent worker,” said Key. “You couldn’t find a better worker than Martin Dunn. I admired that about him. I could go into the back room and we’d discuss something and he’d get in that room and knock it out — he made it a reality; he was just that good.”
Dunn might have been buried the first time around because of a losing political game; but today the winds of politics are in his favor: His corporation Dunn Development, shares an important mission with Mayor Bill de Blasio: To create as many units of affordable housing as possible. And in doing this his firm has taken off, expanding development into Washington Heights, Clarement in the Bronx and East New York.
“All of our units fall under the plan and the models that we do sit very well with the mayor’s plan, including homeless supportive units, including low income — very low income, moderate and medium units, and including other things for the neighborhood like retail, early childhood and health care. It fits well,” said Dunn.
The proof is in the pudding. Dunn Developments, which employs 74 staff members and has an annual revenue of $17.5 million, has been busy, very busy: Since De Blasio took office in 2014 they’ve had six different projects throughout the city — which is about a fifth of the 30 developments they’ve put up since they started construction on their first bid in 2002.
Dunn Developments has worked on 633 units of housing, 531 that have been affordable. Those 531 units will be part of de Blasio’s commitment to create, or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing by 2025.
Apart from affordable housing, Dunn also shares common goals with de Blasio in working to provide supportive housing for the homeless population. Dunn pioneered an integrated housing model for formerly homeless and developmentally disabled residents — he developed a model mixing these specialized populations with families making low, moderate and medium incomes, as well as building space for nonprofits to provide community support.
His developments Livonia Commons in East New York has 51 units reserved for formerly homeless and developmentally disabled. And his other development Bergen Saratoga Apartments, in Brooklyn, has 40 units set aside for the formerly homeless. He said his focus on the overall good of the community comes from a human rights and nonprofit background. And that he received a special human rights award for his work with a nonprofit called the Association to Benefit Children.
“I was part of a group of human rights activists. We all won the Reebok Human Rights Award. We had an organization to support each other for a bunch of years,” said Dunn, who got his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University.
But Benjamin Dulchin, executive director for the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development said Dunn as a for-profit developer shouldn’t provide supportive housing.
“We’re not sure if for profit developers should be building supportive housing for such a vulnerable population,” said Dulchin. “The city should put additional restrictions on them. When it comes to supportive housing there are particular concerns — the population is so dependent on services where there can be a conflict between the for-profit developers and service needs.”
Dunn Developments funds their developments through various affordable housing streams through the city, state and federal government, as well as private equity investors. But Dunn said that his integrated housing developments have only been beneficial for the communities where they’ve been constructed.
Whatsmore, he doesn’t see his firm’s building pace slowing any — he says he has 596 units throughout Queens and the Bronx in various levels of pre-construction. And Dulchin said the 421a tax abatement’s expiration has little impact on affordable housing developers like Dunn, who use different tax credits to fund their projects.