Those who expect bankers to be conventional haven’t met Ari Beliak. He was the key driver in Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s funding of the largest affordable housing project in history, the San Francisco Rental Assistance Demonstration.
San Francisco’s affordable housing stock has degraded over the years, with many of the buildings rife with mold, rodents, and leaks. So in 2012 Mayor Ed Lee decided to transfer ownership of the city’s public housing units from the S.F. Housing Authority to local nonprofit developers: a great idea on paper, but daunting in its logistics.
But Beliak likes a challenge. “I was attracted to the project’s sheer scope and impact, and the opportunity to execute it in a holistic way,” Beliak says. Bank of America Merrill Lynch took on the $770 million venture—and not just as the lender, but also an investor. In the end, the bank also provided $2.8 million for tenant services and $20 million forgivable debt to the city.
The deal closed in November of last year, preserving more than 1,400 units around the city. It went smoothly in part because the bank treated it as one large project, rather than several small ones, an approach that’s definitely not the norm, according to Beliak.
A project of this scale also took some serious Confidence Without Attitude. Indeed, Haas’ Defining Leadership Principles have served as touchstones for Beliak as he’s moved forward in his career.
“If you’re not thinking creatively, you’re going to stagnate,” he says. “And using my skills to give back to the community? That’s what makes the work worth it.” —KMY
Senior VP, Bank of America Merrill Lynch