Construction Today Features ROEM Corporation

By Libby John, Construction Today

ROEM focuses solely on multifamily and senior affordable rental housing. Its Corde Terra Project was named the best of Silicon Valley’s affordable housing in 2005.

By this fall, ROEM Corp. is scheduled to complete 200 units of affordable senior housing at the Corde Terra Village – the final phase of the company’s $155 million master-planned community in San Jose, Calif.

Along with senior housing, the 11-acre community includes 300 units of affordable family housing, 43 single-family market rate homes, community rooms, a fitness center, a computer center, afterschool homework facilities, landscaped courtyards, a barbecue area, swimming pools and play areas for children. The development is adjacent to the Santa Clara County Health Clinic and county fairgrounds, which will be development into residential, office, retail and public space in the near future.

The site also is near Franklin Elementary School. ROEM contributed money to the school and renovated its playground, as well.

ROEM Vice President Jonathan Emami says one of the biggest challenges of the project was that a lot of construction was taking place at the same time due to the multiple phases and different product types. However, the company was able to be efficient because all three of the company’s divisions participated in the project – ROEM Development, ROEM Builders Inc. and MIRO Design Group. “We were the developer, the general contractor and also the architect,” he says. “We had the economics of scale to save time and money.”

In fact, the 300-unit phase was completed two months ahead of schedule, even though the county experienced one of the rainiest winters in recent history from about November 2005 to March 2006, he notes. “We took measures early on to add additional erosion controls and to get our roads in before the rains came,” he says. “We lost a little bit of time during the excavation and construction of the below-grade parking garage. However once we started framing, we quickly were able to catch up.”

A Great Need

The Corde Terra Village Project is San Jose’s largest new construction and affordable housing development, Emami says. In 2005, the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal named it the affordable housing development of the year, and in 2007, the development was named the runner-up in the affordable housing development of the year award. Additionally in 2008, the project was runner up for the best affordable family project in the nation by Affordable Housing Finance magazine.

There was a great need for this type of project in the community, Emami explains. “We pre-leased all 300 units and moved in the new tenants in less than 60 days,” he notes. “They are moved in and it is occupied 100 percent.

“There is constant demand for affordable housing,” he continues. “Meeting those demands is a constant struggle. The amount of units built met a fraction of the needs in San Jose. Nevertheless, we continue to do what we can to provide more supply of affordable housing here and throughout the state.”

The Full Scope

Two years ago, ROEM decided to focus solely on multifamily and senior affordable rental housing instead of market-rate and for-sale homes, Emami says. “We just took a look [at the market] and decided to stop purchasing land for market-rate for sale housing,” he says. “We were satisfied [with our backlog in that sector] and we wanted to shift our main focus to affordable apartment communities, which we did.”

Also, at that time, the company decided to expand outside of its geographic focus – mainly San Jose and other cities within Santa Clara County – and take on projects from the northern to southern end of California.

The company has been successful in this market because it is able to provide a full range of services – design, development and construction. “From the beginning to end, we’re able to control the development process [for every project] and offer a design/build approach to development,” Emami says. “I think that’s attractive and it adds value. We’re able to save time and improve on efficiencies which we feel leads to more reasonable costs and a better product.”

However, its divisions are flexible enough to act as third-party entities to other companies. For example, its construction division – ROEM Builders Inc. – currently is providing general contracting and construction management services on a $17 million, 200-unit senior housing renovation project in Campbell, Calif., and is actively providing preconstruction services to clients on a few other construction projects, which are expected to start in the near future.

The firm’s long-standing relationships with its partners, stakeholders, communities and subcontractors also set it apart. “Some of our relationships, for example, with subcontractors go back 30 years,” Emami explains. “It really helps to work with people we’ve done business with in the past and have experience with.

“We go through a very extensive subcontractor prequalification process which we feel allows us to create a database of some of the best subcontractors in the industry,” he explains. “This way, we can ensure we are working with solid companies that have experience in their specific trade.”

Affordable Housing Niche

Robert Emami, Jonathan’s father, founded ROEM Development Corp. in 1988, followed by its general contracting and construction management entity ROEM Builders Inc. in 1999. MIRO Design Group was formed in 2002.

Jonathan Emami says the company wants to continue to focus on affordable housing projects and provide high-quality, high-value infill communities. “We would like to continue to build up the pipeline to start approximately 500 to 1,000 affordable housing units a year. When the market improves, we have the experience and track record to build for-sale housing and will continue doing so.”

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