Bobby Turner wants to make sure more people can afford housing in Los Angeles and other cities, and to earn solid returns for his investors, too. That’s why the former chief executive of Century City’s Canyon Capital Realty Advisors just launched the Turner Impact Multifamily Fund, the latest initiative from his socially conscious investment firm, Turner Impact Capital in Santa Monica. The fund’s investors include the University of Michigan and Citi Community Capital. Turner spoke with the Business Journal about high rents burdening working Angelenos and how impact investing can generate more than just karmic returns.

Question: Why did you start the new fund?

Answer: We are trying to tackle some of society’s most daunting challenges. Not through government or philanthropy, but using market forces to create sustainable solutions. And one of those challenges is affordable housing. Mayor Eric Garcetti will tell you one of the biggest challenges we face in Los Angeles is the shortage of workforce housing. People earning 50 to 80 percent of the median income are basically priced out of quality options. Many are spending 50 percent of their income on rent. That is untenable. It comes at the expense of health insurance, food security and so many other things.

Given L.A.’s real estate prices and sprawl, many people here accept long commutes as a cost of living here. You think they shouldn’t. Why?

The environment, economy and household well-being all suffer when housing is not present in proximate areas. Think of the family drain when you’re not home in time for dinner, to be a mentor to your kids. Think of the effect driving for hours has on the environment. Finally, think of the lost productivity if you’re commuting 90 minutes each way every day. That’s untenable.

There’s obviously demand for affordable housing in convenient neighborhoods. Why hasn’t more of it been built? And why is your fund trying to buy properties instead of building them?

The economics don’t work to build new workforce housing at the moment, given the high costs of construction and labor. You can’t build workforce housing and generate a market return. So in the interim, I’m in triage mode. The existing stock is disappearing. When those properties go on sale, typically more opportunistic buyers come in looking to drive profitability. The easiest way to improve profitability is to improve the property and increase rent. That’s not what we want to do.


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