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Panthers Answer the Call: Pitt Alumni Find Shared Purpose Through Affordable Housing Work
Headshots of Pitt alum next to text

Sean Kelly (BSBA ’04) knew his affordable housing development needed funding and support to break ground. By fall 2020, he had spent months meeting with local, state, and federal financial backers. When the institutions assembled, Kelly did not anticipate finding three other University of Pittsburgh alumni answering the call. None of them had met before or knew their common background right away.

After a few relationship-building conversations, the four men discovered they were all Pitt graduates. Jordan Laird (BSBA ’12), Jordan Space (BSBA ’06), and Jeff Darwak (A&S ’05) joined Kelly on a mission to bring affordable housing to a Philadelphia suburb.

Kelly is the executive vice president of real estate developer Leon N. Weiner and Associates (LNWA). Since joining LNWA in 2010, he has led development teams producing more than 2,400 apartments in seven states. “Affordable housing has reached crisis level in our country and has become recognized as foundational to increase economic mobility and security,” he said.

Business as a Force for Social Good

One of LNWA’s recent projects was the development of an energy-efficient, centrally located, and affordable apartment community for seniors 55 and older in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. With the goal of adding 50 apartments in Sellersville Borough, Kelly headed up the project with the support of the local community.

The idea of community revitalization was at the core of the project. Sellersville has a rich industrious history. Much like Pittsburgh and many other cities and towns in Pennsylvania, the community needed to adapt after milling, manufacturing, and textile jobs left. The development site was undervalued due to its industrious past and required remediation. For Kelly and his team, rental affordability was just as important as environmental impact.

Kelly likened developing affordable housing to building a multi-layer cake. Many things must come together to create a masterpiece. “Because you’re renting apartments to people who have very modest means, you’re essentially fundraising,” he said, adding: “Funding efforts require creative finance and a dash of local philanthropy.”

Meet the Team

Funds for this project came from local, state, federal, and private sector organizations with support from the Pitt alumni committed to using business for social good:

  • Jeff Darwak is the executive director of the Redevelopment Authority of the County of Bucks; his agency provided financing for the environmental remedial activities associated with the development. Gaining the county’s support for the project was a crucial first step.
  • Jordan Laird, director of finance at Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA), said that his agency provided long-term financing to support the project’s financial stability for many years to come.
  • Jordan Space, formerly of S&T Bank and now chief corporate development officer at Mid Penn Bank, worked to provide funding through tailored financing with the commercial real estate team.

Kelly knew having other Pitt people on board would enhance the project. He credits Pitt’s “strengths across finance, public policy, and design” with giving him confidence in his fellow alumni and project partners.

Prepared by Pitt

All four alumni credit the University with equipping them with the skills and core fundamentals they needed to build their careers. Pitt Panthers are forged both inside and outside the classroom.

Space noted the University prepared him to engage with and understand people from different backgrounds and interests.

Darwak — who majored in Urban Studies, Political Science, and Public Administration — said, “I have always been intrigued by the built environment, so a favorite aspect of my Pitt education was the urban campus. I can think of no better setting than Pitt where one can study and immerse oneself in the various aspects of development, redevelopment, or more generally, how and why things are built.”

The 68,000 square foot building opened in April 2022 after a 14-month building period prolonged by the COVID-19 pandemic. All 50 units were leased and filled within 45 days of opening, which Kelly says is representative of the critical need.

As Kelly, Darwak, Laird, and Space move forward toward their next ventures, they can rest easy knowing the positive impact of their collaboration. At the ribbon cutting, Kelly recalls, two new residents told him the affordable apartments finally enabled them to move closer to their grandchildren.

Four Pitt Panthers were brought together by a desire to help low-income families in Pennsylvania. “It was a pleasant surprise,” said Laird about discovering the group’s commonalities. “I’m sure we’ll stay in touch moving forward.”

Network and Stay Connected

Pitt Business alumni live in 50 states and nearly 90 countries. Serendipitous encounters as described here prove that they can come together and use business to create social good. To meet Pitt alumni in your area, discover one of over 40 regional clubs both in the US and abroad. For more information on these clubs, click here.

May 2022 – Members of Harkins Builders, Sean Kelly (second from left) and members of LNWA, first two residents, Members of PHFA, Members of Bucks County, Jeff Darwak (far right)