How Owen Metz helped shift this national housing developer's focus to Phoenix

Owen Metz has been working behind the scenes to dispel myths about affordable housing across the Valley as Arizona faces a major housing shortage and high rents and price tags.

As senior vice president for Dominium’s mountain west region, Metz has been focusing on bringing more affordable housing online across the Valley despite pushback from residents.

So far, he has helped lead development of several affordable housing projects for Dominium — its first ground-up developments in the area. Dominium owns and operates more than 1,500 units in the Valley with more than 1,000 under construction and an additional 1,000 units in the pipeline.

Metz moved to the area with his family about two years ago to regionalize Dominium, a longtime national developer, in the Mountain West area of the country. Dominium at the same time opened offices in Phoenix, Dallas and Atlanta to cover the different regions.

Metz said he and his company are looking to stay in Arizona long-term and expand from the approximately 20 team members they currently have in the Valley.

“We’re a bit stubborn — we’re not going to give up on this community. It needs a lot of affordable housing,” Metz said. “We’re fully committed to the Valley.”

How did you get into this industry? I picked up real estate late in my college career, didn’t know a lot about affordable housing but I saw listed a job posting for Dominium when I was searching for jobs. I called up my buddy and asked him about Dominium and what they do and what his job was. It just kind of fit together and I was fortunate to get a job offer from Dominium in late 2005 and started shortly after I graduated in 2006 and have been here ever since working my way up.

What do you like about working in affordable housing? Being able to work on very complex transactions, every one is different, every day is different. Every deal and development in every community we build has different challenges to work through and problems to solve, so that was always interesting to me. It’s something I’ve got a passion for and still come to work every day excited to work on whatever challenge and opportunity we have. It’s not easy, not for the faint of heart, but it’s something that does some great things for communities.

What’s the current state of housing in Phoenix? Phoenix is still relatively affordable [compared] to many places when you stack it up to communities in the West, but when you look at the people who work here and who have lived here for a while, their rents have more than doubled in the past five years. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better because the rental production is not keeping up with demand for apartments. My concern for the region is, does that business growth continue? We’ve had great growth in economic development, but that was in a market where housing was affordable. You can’t just drive to affordability anymore.

What are current barriers to affordable housing? For our company the biggest barrier is the lack of zoned land across the Valley that you can build apartments on by right. It almost doesn’t exist. It’s very, very little. It’s through plans and general plans — it’s projected to actually get worse. Of that land that’s occupied and used for residential in the Valley, 93% of it is for single family, 7% is for multifamily — that’s not a healthy balance for a metro that will soon be 8 million people. That lack of density and “push and grow as far as you can” worked for a while but to be a modern, diverse economy you need to go up at some point and create density instead of just going out.

What are potential solutions? Getting faster permitting, faster zoning, quicker review times from cities. Anything you can do to speed up the process, allowing smaller houses against smaller lots and single family not requiring two-car attached garages, allowing car ports again.

Some of the things you saw during the baby boom era … why Phoenix was affordable is a lot of inexpensive homes were allowed to be built. A challenge to building entry-level housing is the regulatory requirements and design standards that sound good but when you peel the layers of the onion back, it’s adding costs and time, it’s making housing more expensive.

The governor recently signed a budget that includes $150 million in replenishment of the Housing Trust Fund and that was fantastic. It was much needed to build housing because the federal government’s not going to give the state more money to build. The state needs to invest in housing infrastructure just like they invest in other infrastructure.

Owen Metz

Title: Senior vice president and project partner

Company: Dominium Apartments’ Mountain West region

Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration in real estate and finance from the Madison School of Business at University of Wisconsin

What’s your leadership philosophy? I tend to look forward and not backwards, and I encourage that with my team and the folks that work for me, that “Hey you’re going to make mistakes, things are going to mess up.” It’s just life. You’ve got to move on and look forward.

If you could do anything in another life, what would that be? I would love to be a professional golfer. That’d be a fun career to travel around, see a lot of people, meet a lot of people and see a lot of beautiful places. That or a professional traveler.

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