USA Properties celebrates 40th anniversary of helping meet the demand for housing

Industry leader has established award-winning social service programs for low-income residents, embraced aging-in-place efforts and expanded into market-rate communities

USA Properties Fund Inc. is celebrating its 40th anniversary of creating outstanding communities – providing much-needed quality housing for residents, developing life-changing social-services programs, and investing in and revitalizing neighborhoods in California and Nevada.

The Roseville-based company “goes above and beyond for its residents” with award-winning and forward-looking efforts and “works tirelessly to help solve the housing crisis,” say industry leaders.

“It’s more than just about apartments, we believe in building communities and providing homes for families and seniors,” said USA Properties President Geoff Brown, whose father founded the company in 1981. “It’s about impacting and improving the lives of our residents.”

USA Properties has enjoyed fast-paced growth during the past 25 years, from just a couple of apartment communities to more than 90 today – and becoming one of the largest affordable community developer-builder-managers in the West, and among the nation’s leading senior housing providers. The company expanded into market-rate apartment communities in 2015.

The company has also been at the forefront of embracing energy-efficient efforts, such as solar-panel systems, and environmentally friendly practices, including a modular construction project in the Bay Area that cuts costs, saves time and reduces waste.

USA Properties has about 375 employees and recently opened a regional office in Southern California.

But the company is much more than about apartment communities, figures and impressive growth.

“At the end of the day, all of the things that we do on a day-to-day basis, are meant to create outstanding communities,” said Jonny Harmer, Chief Financial Officer of USA Properties. “Areas that people can call home. Places where cities and communities can look at what we’ve done and see that our work has had a positive impact.”

(USA Properties has established a 40th anniversary website, complete with interviews of current and past executives, employees, partners and, of course, residents.)

Building a foundation by filling a need

J.B. Brown, an entrepreneurial businessman who had extensive experience developing housing for CalMark Properties and two other companies in Southern California founded USA Properties Fund in Santa Monica on Jan. 28, 1981. USA Properties, originally connected to a savings and loan, was J.B. Brown’s fourth startup in 12 years.

“My dad really wanted to be the captain of his own ship,” Brown said of his father’s decision to leave CalMark, a subsidiary of a much-larger corporation. “He was always willing to take risks.”

In the early years, USA Properties was sometimes a struggling startup but persevered, Brown said.

The company was busy building and selling single-family and multifamily housing in Southern California for the first several years. But when the buyer of an affordable apartment community under construction in Desert Hot Springs faced financial difficulties and failed to complete the deal in 1989, USA Properties took over the project, which enabled it to get into the affordable housing industry.

USA Properties, then with seven employees, embraced affordable housing and the new Low Income Housing Tax Credits program that started in 1986. The company’s original build-and-sell model evolved into develop, own and manage apartment communities.

“Successful companies find niches,” Brown said. “And affordable housing became our niche.”

Today, the company is one of the largest affordable community developer-builder-managers in the West, and has expanded into market-rate communities during the past several years, with housing in the Bay Area, the Sacramento region and Southern California. The company has a total of about 11,600 units in its portfolio.

Much of the company’s impressive growth – more than 10,000 units – has come under the leadership of Brown, who joined the company in 1989 and was named president in 1997. His father passed away in 2001, the 20th anniversary of USA Properties.

“With each additional apartment built, affordable and market-rate, we are helping address a critical issue in the state by providing housing to residents,” Brown said. “Every apartment opens the door to more housing and new opportunities for residents.”

‘Pivotal moments’

Like all companies, especially those that have lasted four decades, there have been challenges and difficult times, including four economic recessions and the elimination of the redevelopment program in California a decade ago. But the company has survived, succeeded – and often thrived, thanks to a five-year business plan that included moving to Roseville, two affordable projects early on and even some luck.

USA Properties moved from Southern California to Roseville, a suburb of Sacramento, in 1993. USA felt the greater Sacramento area would become one of the fastest-growing parts of the state because it was more affordable to live there.

Soon after relocating, USA Properties started two Sacramento-area projects – Terracina Elk Grove, an affordable community in South Sacramento, and Vintage Oaks in Citrus Heights, the company’s first affordable senior community.

Moving to Roseville and later opening a 10,500-square-foot office along with opening the two affordable communities were “pivotal moments” for USA Properties, Brown said.

Those apartment communities, along with the Desert Hot Springs project, helped pave the way for the road to success for USA Properties, which has become a leader in the affordable housing industry.

USA Properties “continues to work tirelessly to help solve the housing crisis for low-income Californians,” said Ray Pearl, Executive Director of the California Housing Consortium. Geoff Brown, a longtime advocate for affordable housing, was named a Housing Hall of Fame Honoree by the consortium in 2015. “The company is a leader in the field, providing housing and services throughout the state while also advocating for policies that impact the lives of the people they work hard to serve. The company’s contributions to real people’s lives are immeasurable.”

The JB Brown Fund and other efforts to help residents

USA Properties has expanded those contributions beyond housing to include efforts that provide opportunities and assistance for low-income residents through the JB Brown Fund, a grassroots organization founded with social-services partner LifeSTEPS in 2011.

The JB Brown Fund has raised $1.4 million and helped more than 900 low-income families living in USA Properties’ affordable apartment communities. The JB Brown Fund helps residents attend college, participate in youth sports or face an unexpected financial emergency, such as a job loss, death in the family or to buy a new pair of glasses or hearing aids.

Five years ago, LifeSTEPS and USA Properties established a pilot program that allowed low-income seniors to reman living at affordable senior apartment communities in the Sacramento region and receive much of the medical attention they need steps away from their home – for free. The RN Coaching PILOT Program recently received the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban’s 2020 Award for Healthy Homes, a national award that has recognized only 22 programs since 2015.

Brown said the company will continue looking at ways to help low-income seniors to age in place, a critical issue for older residents and their families.

“The company and its team go above and beyond just helping residents and partners,” said Beth Southorn, Executive Director of LifeSTEPS. “Together, we have provided ways to stop the cycle of poverty by lifting good people out of their situation and into the life they were created to live.”

It’s a commitment that started with the community-minded J.B. Brown and grows stronger today under a second-generation of leadership and hundreds of more employees.

USA Properties has “gone from a mom-and-pop company into a sophisticated, modern corporation,” said Michael McCleery, who joined the company in 1988 and retired as Executive Vice President of Construction in summer 2020. He was one of six employees in the corporate headquarters in the early days. “As the company has changed over time, what hasn’t changed is the belief in the people.”

Brown agrees, adding that employees and partners – including local governments, housing agencies, investors and subcontractors – have been critical to the company’s long-term success.

“If there’s one thing we don’t do well, is that we don’t celebrate our success enough,” said Brown, likening the effort to a winning sports team. “You don’t want to focus too much on how good you are, you always want to keep that edge. But, let’s be honest, there is also always a little good luck involved.”

Hard work, good timing and definitely even a bit of luck are needed for companies celebrating their 40th anniversary, a milestone reached by fewer than 5% of private companies nationwide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“I’m very proud that our company has made it to 40 years,” Brown said. “But it’s important that we keep the same fire, passion and dedication to be successful as we did when we were 20 years old.”