September 2, 2022

Developer adds luxury to D.C.’s affordable housing

After feeling the crunch of sky-high rental rates, Buwa Binitie founded Dantes Partners to bring “luxury affordable” housing to Washington, D.C.

A headshot of Buwa Binitie
Dantes Partners, founded by Buwa Binitie, provides affordable housing units built with design elements and techniques that are more common in luxury buildings.
September 2, 2022

Developer adds luxury to D.C.’s affordable housing

After feeling the crunch of sky-high rental rates, Buwa Binitie founded Dantes Partners to bring “luxury affordable” housing to Washington, D.C.

At the height of the dot-com era, Buwa Binitie was a college graduate with a great job at a San Francisco tech communications company, and he still faced challenges finding affordable housing.

“Even though I made good income, it was challenging for me to find a decent-quality, affordable place to live within close proximity to my job,” he said.

That experience had a profound impact on Binitie.

A man in a dark suit stands on a rooftop smiling at the camera.
Buwa Binitie’s vision for providing luxury affordable housing grew out of his own experience with the difficulty of finding decent affordable housing.

“I once told myself, ‘If I ever get into real estate, I’ve got to figure out a way to cater to folks [who have trouble finding quality affordable housing],’” he said. In 2006, Binitie founded Dantes Partners, which today has closed on $1.9 billion worth of real estate deals, providing more than 6,000 units of luxury affordable housing across the mid-Atlantic.

‘You’ve got all that it takes to be successful’

“In many ways, Buwa embodies the American dream,” said Vanessa Rodriguez, head of Wells Fargo Community Lending & Investment, or CLI.

Tiara Henderson, Commercial Real Estate Diverse Segments leader for Wells Fargo, was acquainted with Binitie’s business and thought it would make a great feature for the Wells Fargo “Forging What’s Next” campaign (2 minutes), which teams with Bloomberg to tell our clients’ stories to an audience of around 20 million business influencers. “Everything Buwa gets involved in is top-notch and forward-thinking. He puts his community first,” Henderson said. “He’s got this amazing story with this amazing company he built by himself from the ground up.”

The campaign, according to Andrea Boscoe, marketing executive for Wells Fargo Corporate & Investment Banking, “also showcases the extraordinary work Wells Fargo is doing to support our clients.”

Binitie is incredibly grateful for that support. “Over the years, from my very first deal to where I am now, Wells Fargo has expressed that they believe in what we are doing,” Binitie said. “That means a lot, just the same way the coach believes in their players, or the parent believes in their child, or the teacher believes in their student and tells them ‘You’ve got all that it takes to be successful.’”

As housing costs rise, affordability becomes more challenging

The work of Dantes Partners is needed now more than ever.

“The affordable housing crisis in the U.S. has been escalating for years, and the pandemic has had a swift and substantial economic impact further contributing to the problem,” Rodriguez said. “You used to hear about the high-priced coastal metros like New York, San Francisco, and L.A., but now the problem has spread nationwide to many secondary cities that historically had a lower cost of living. It’s a big problem for our country.”

A man looks over a wall-mounted map of a city.
Undaunted by continually rising housing costs, Buwa Binitie continues to advance Dantes Partners’ mission.

Community Lending & Investment is focused on addressing that problem by providing investment and financing in underserved, low- and moderate-income communities. In fact, ground-up construction of affordable multifamily housing projects is the largest part of CLI’s business, Rodriguez said. As a result, over the past five years, CLI has provided more than $21 billion in capital for affordable housing.

Autumn Leatham, Wells Fargo lead Commercial Real Estate relationship manager, explained that soaring housing costs have pushed many low- and moderate-income individuals and families to the outskirts of many cities — where she said there are often long commutes, limited transit routes, and under-resourced schools.

That’s why she’s excited about Dantes Partners’ most recent development, which puts displaced people “back into the heart of the city. It’s a walkable site. It’s a safe site. It’s near the Metro. It has four different grocery stores, a dog park, and a high school. It’s life-changing for so many people.”

Dantes Partners applies luxury building techniques to affordable buildings

“It doesn’t matter which urban city you go to in America, you can always tell which building is the affordable building and which is a luxury building,” Binitie said. He noted that the biggest difference is bland design. “If it’s the same material and it costs the same, why not give a little bit of flair to the buildings? We’re basically taking a page out of a luxury, class-A building and applying it to an affordable building at the same cost.”

Binitie was reminded of the ancillary effects of his company’s work when a tenant approached him about her new apartment, which put her within a 10-minute walk of work — allowing her to give up her car and save money on insurance and gas. She told Binitie, “I have way more disposable income now than I did, and my life is healthier because I get to walk to work every day. I basically got my time back.”

Looking back over the past 16 years of helping people like this grateful tenant, Binitie lauds his team for being “able to make the impossible possible given all the odds against us,” and he’s appreciative that Wells Fargo “continues to believe in us and work with us to be the best we can be.”