Nov 18, 2020

Bell Expands Focus on Lending for Affordable Housing

Homeownership has long been a hallmark of the “American Dream,” but many middle-class Americans are having a harder time making that part of their dream come true.

Despite the U.S. economy experiencing its longest ever economic expansion, with unemployment levels at a 50-year low (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic), income and wealth inequality in the United States reached a 50-year high in 2018, the latest data available. One of the factors that has contributed to this disparity is a decline in housing wealth. After millions of Americans lost their homes during and following the Great Recession in 2008, housing prices increased substantially, as there weren’t enough new homes being built.

That means that fewer middle-class Americans own homes and are having a harder time entering (or re-entering) the housing market. It’s also difficult to find affordable apartments, because rents have also skyrocketed, and since 2010, multifamily developers have put most of their time and energy into higher rent, luxury market housing.

Bell Bank wants to do more in the affordable housing sector and his hired Rochelle Dotzenrod, who has worked in this are for the last 12 years, including at U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo, to lead the effort. As a senior vice president and commercial real estate banker for Bell, Rochelle is focusing on low income housing tax credit financing. In her position, she originates loans for developers who build apartments and other multifamily housing units that ultimately lease to people who qualify for affordable housing.

“I absolutely love this line of work,” Rochelle notes. “What I love about banking is that you build and maintain relationships with people who trust that the product you are ‘selling’ will help them achieve their goals. It is easier to sell a product when you can genuinely get behind the company offering it. In the affordable housing industry, I love that it combines the mission of making our communities better and stronger. I can be proud when I tell my children what I do, and we talk about it. My children have even been to loan closings and attended grand opening speeches.”

The first affordable multifamily housing grand opening Rochelle attended involved the renovation of an older building. While she was giving her grand opening speech, she looked up and saw 20 kids running and playing in the playground. It was then she knew the work she did was more than a job.

“Affordable housing is an industry I am committed to working in,” Rochelle affirms.

While she has former colleagues who work at Bell, and they rave about the culture and work environment, Rochelle says she would not have joined Bell if the bank hadn’t expressed interest in doing more with affordable housing financing.

“To hear that my former colleagues wouldn’t work at any other bank was really intriguing,” Rochelle comments. “But more importantly, when Bell’s leadership heard about what I’ve done, they expressed incredible interest in expanding this business line. I’m very excited to be able to work in an industry I love and work for a bank that wants to do more with this type of lending.”

The affordable housing shortage extends across the U.S. Because it’s expensive to build, there’s been a larger push for developing expensive, luxury multi-family housing over the last 10-15 years.

“Unless developers are incentivized by federal subsidies to build this type of housing, it doesn’t often happen,” Rochelle explains. “Developers want to do it, and while there’s enough need, there’s not enough subsidy to build affordable housing.”

Not only is this important for those who need the housing, but it helps banks achieve Community Reinvestment Act requirements. At Bell, it also ties in with our mission of making a difference in the communities we serve. And Rochelle’s work complements Bell’s efforts to help economically people and neighborhoods access the banking services they need. Rochelle will work closely with Katie Mattis Sarver, hired this year as Bell’s first community development officer to help expand Bell’s reach into communities that might be underserved by financial institutions.

Erin Procko, Bell Bank’s Twin Cities banking director and president, says Rochelle’s expertise will help Bell address a need that hasn’t previously been a major focus.

“We hope teaming Rochelle with Katie, and the rest of our commercial banking team, will help us ‘connect the dots’ financially as we work with communities and organizations focused on affordable housing,” Erin remarks. “This is an important industry, and we’re excited to play a bigger part in this area of lending.”

One of the more unique aspects of this type of lending is the number of groups involved in seeing a project through to completion. In addition to the bank and developer, affordable housing developments also typically involve state, city and county funds, which means more requirements and multiple interests. Rochelle says that’s why it’s so important to work with a bank with the knowledge and experience to make sure the loan is structured appropriately.

Growing up in the small town of Calmar, Iowa, Rochelle went on to study finance, real estate and international business at the University of Northern Iowa. She interned with Principal Financial Group while in college and got her first job there following graduation. After moving to the Twin Cities area, she worked in commercial banking for Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank for more than 15 years, before leaving to work in consulting.

While Rochelle never expected to work in banking, she found it to be more about relationship-building than crunching numbers, and she’s loved the relationships she’s formed with clients, developers, attorneys and the different organizations that have a vested interest in affordable housing.

Rochelle is so committed to community development that it’s something she also focuses on outside of work.

She and a group of women who work on affordable housing in Minnesota are meeting to figure out how to help more women become involved in affordable housing ownership. Additionally, Rochelle serves on the Real Estate Advisory Board for her alma matter’s real estate program, and she formed an organization called Healthy Foods and Healthy Habits for Wayzata Schools to advocate for healthier nutrition for children as well as their physical and mental health.

She and her husband, Jacob, live in Plymouth, Minn., and have two children.

To connect with Rochelle on how she might be able to help you and your business, call her at 612-385-3022 or email rdotzenrod@bell.bank.