Updated: Feb 17
Article first appeared in Idaho Business Review on February 6, 2020. By Sharon Fisher
The River Falls Opportunity Fund, managed by Cornerstone Commercial Investments, is run by a father-son team, John M. Nichols and John Steven Nichols. The company has two Opportunity Zone 12-plex workforce housing projects and is working on a third.
“They solve a big problem in areas that are growing,” John S. said. “All these people have to live somewhere,” John M. agreed.
Father and son
The newest project is a 54-unit complex of four 12-plexes and one 6-plex, John S. said. The design, called “mountain modern,” rents in the $900 to $1,150 range. The most recent project is slated to begin construction this spring, with a 12- to 15-month build time, John M. said.
Completed projects have been received well, John S. said.
“We only have four left, and they’ve only been out for three weeks, in the middle of winter,” he said.
“We’re surprised at how well it’s been received. The worst time to rent anything is December, January and February, but the need is so great that it doesn’t matter what time.”
Why? Blame Californians, but not just them.
“The market is attracting a lot of people from the coast – Seattle, Portland and California,” said John S.
The company is seeing particular interest in two-bedroom, two-bathroom units, John S. said.
“We’re seeing a high demand because of the retirement population moving here,” he said, particularly if they want a spare bedroom for visiting children. “They like to have a little more space.”
Families, too, are interested in two-bathroom units. “It’s more difficult for a family to move into a 2/1 and share the bathroom,” he said.
In particular, units are drawing from Basic Police Academy in Post Falls, provided by North Idaho College, because two roommates can share one unit.
“They’re spacious enough, with a modern design, and are appealing to people moving to the area,” John S. said. Housing is so tight that students are living with faculty and staff, he said.
“If there was any kind of student we would want, it would be law enforcement students,” said John M. “There’s no place for them to live.”
The company is financing the projects through a combination of syndicated investors and bank financing. The most recent property is open only to accredited investors, with a minimum investment of $100,000.
“Most people who have gains have more than that,” said John M. “Some people have double or triple that.”
Investors in the projects have typically sold a house, duplex or 4-plex and want to take advantage of the scale of a larger project, John S. said.
“A lot of people, they sold something and they’re looking for something to reinvest it in,” he said. “They don’t have the bandwidth to take down a huge project, but they want to be part of a huge project.”
Opportunity Zones, a community development program established by Congress in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, are intended to encourage long-term investment in low-income urban and rural communities through tax breaks. Thus far, two major ones have been announced in Idaho: one in Twin Falls and one in Meridian, though workforce housing projects are also being finalized for Twin Falls and McCall.
Investors needed to be involved in an Opportunity Zone by Dec. 31 to get full tax advantages, but the majority of the exemptions still apply.
“It’s interesting how different cities approach it,” said John S. While Spokane uses most of the city, some markets haven’t used Opportunity Zones at all, he said.
“Nationwide, there’s a lot of investment in these markets,” he said. “It’s a missed opportunity for cities to embrace these benefits. When they started doing this, nobody understood it because it was so new. It’s bringing more capital investment and growth and activity, and we’ve seen great results.”