Annexation, rental home community proposed


American Homes 4 Rent, a public real estate investment trust based in Calabasas, California, wants to develop 81 single-family lots in the southwest corner of Interstate 70 and Blue Road.

Submitted image

GREENFIELD — Officials are considering annexing nearly 30 acres onto the city’s northeast side for a rental-home community.

As the leaders approach their decision, they’re weighing an opportunity to provide a housing option that’s been gaining popularity across the country with the need to ensure properties are well maintained.

Sisters Beth Willard, Barbara Drudge and Deborah Watson seek the annexation for the cropland they own in the southwest corner of Interstate 70 and Blue Road. That’s where American Homes 4 Rent, a public real estate investment trust based in Calabasas, California, wants to develop 81 single-family lots.

All of the homes would be two stories with two-car garages and fencing. They would be for rent rather than for sale, with monthly rates ranging from $1,800 to $2,200. Property maintenance would also be provided for residents. A pool, cabana building and playground are part of the proposal as well.

American Homes 4 Rent started out buying foreclosed houses and renting them out across the country before adding a division to develop and manage rental communities.

“We are very intentional about where we want to be long term,” said Mark Connor of American Homes 4 Rent at a Greenfield Plan Commission meeting earlier this week. “We love Greenfield. We’re very cognizant of schools, demographics; we’re serious about criminal background checks.”

Joanie Fitzwater, Greenfield planning director, noted that build-to-rent single-family communities have been emerging more across the country since the 2008 recession. Her report on the proposed annexation elaborates on drivers for that trend, including soaring home prices, adults entering the workforce with college debt, the COVID-19 pandemic keeping people at home and a desire for less home maintenance.

Briane House, a lawyer with Greenfield-based Pritzke & Davis representing American Homes 4 Rent, shares a similar view.

“In this economy and particularly with the development that’s occurring in Hancock County, we are seeing more and more families who will be here for shorter periods of time — two, three, maybe four years — and then they move on,” House said. “This provides an excellent opportunity for someone to enjoy the amenities of a single-family residence with a yard, with a fence, with a $1 million amenity center, and not be burdened with home ownership and the maintenance that goes with it because that is handled by the investor/owner.”

But Fitzwater also acknowledged the notion that renters may feel less attachment to their property and communities, leaving them less likely to keep up their homes. Her report states the city “spends quite a bit of taxpayer money on seeking repair of poorly maintained properties.”

She also noted that American Homes 4 Rent owns 95 rental properties in Greenfield and that some have had maintenance issues.

Fitzwater and other planning officials want to determine a way to ensure the city would be compensated if it had to step in due to maintenance not being kept up in the proposed community, possibly via a letter of credit or bond.

That would work far better if the community had one owner, she continued, adding she has concerns over individual lots getting sold to new owners that would then rent them in the future. To avoid that, she’d like to see the land platted as a single-lot subdivision with 81 future buildings rather than 81 individual lots.

“It would prevent the individual sale of those lots in the future, which would alleviate us having to deal with 81 different property owners renting to someone who might not take as good of care of their property as a homeowner, is what the general consensus is,” Fitzwater said.

Connor could not confirm at the meeting whether the platting scenario Fitzwater seeks aligns with American Homes 4 Rent’s plans, but said he’d work to determine that soon.

House said there would be another deterrent to any substandard maintenance that city officials may fear. He referred to an American Homes 4 Rent build-to-rent community in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he said family incomes are generally over $100,000 a year. He also pointed to the anticipated rents in the proposed Greenfield annexation.

“The residents who live here simply are not going to tolerate poor maintenance and management,” House said.

Connor worked to ease officials’ concerns about the financial stability of the property being under public investor ownership, explaining the Greenfield project would not be individually prospected to potential investors.

“It’s part of the larger portfolio of what is today a $15-billion real estate investment trust,” Connor said.

The plan commission was slated to consider making a recommendation to Greenfield City Council on a residential zoning designation for the property if it’s annexed, but continued the matter to next month to provide more time for ironing out details like the platting issue.