Breaking Ground with Mercy Housing Lakefront’s Real Estate Development Team

There is no typical day for Mercy Housing’s Real Estate Development team. Todd Wolcott, Associate Director of Real Estate at Mercy Housing Lakefront explains, “One day you might find us in the office and the next day we are walking around talking to city leaders about an upcoming development. We definitely aren’t sitting in front of Excel sheets every day.”

L to R – Daina Jauntirans, Edgar Flagg III, and Todd Wolcott (not pictured – Sharon Pride)

This close-knit team, which in addition to Todd includes Edgar Flagg III, Daina Jauntirans, and Sharon Pride, oversees rehabilitating and building new affordable housing communities in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. The past three years were focused primarily on rehabbing current permanent supportive housing (PSH) communities.

“We closed on The Miriam in 2019, and we then did Major Jenkins (MJ) in 2020, and in 2021, we rehabbed the Carlton Apartments,” Todd shared.

Since 1991, the Miriam Apartments have provided affordable homes and onsite supportive services for individuals with extremely low incomes.

Edgar Flagg III, Vice President of Real Estate Development

As Mercy Housing Lakefront’s Vice President of Real Estate Development, Edgar Flagg III oversees the region’s activities in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. “I always wanted to get into real estate,” Edgar shared. “I didn’t know about affordable housing when I started – I went to school for planning with a concentration on real estate and finance.” His focus on finance, numbers, and modeling landed him a job with retailer Renee, the second-largest owner of shopping malls across the country (at the time).

“They needed someone to work on some affordable deals that were happening at the time,” he said. “That’s how I modeled my first tax credit deal.”

Unfamiliar with tax credit deals, Edgar committed himself to learning as much as he could about them. “I just read and learned a little bit over time, and then we had another deal. I learned how tax credit deals worked.”

From there, Edgar learned more about real estate development. “It was mostly just me and the head of property management,” he explained. “I had to become an expert of every document because there wasn’t really anyone else.”

Looking for a little bit of a change, Edgar accepted a job with The Resurrection Project, a Chicago nonprofit serving Latino communities, serving as the Chief Real Estate Development Officer. “That’s how I got into nonprofits,” he shared.

During the Pandemic shutdown, Edgar learned that Mercy Housing was hiring. “I had put myself in a good position and felt this was a wonderful opportunity.”

The old-school way of doing things continues to come in handy for him, “I still like to tell folks that I learn my finance with a pen and paper.”

A Career in High Tech leads to a Career in High Rises 

Todd Wolcott, Associate Director of Real Estate joined Mercy Housing Lakefront eight years ago, but he began his career in the tech industry. “I found it technically stimulating, but not morally,” he explained. He decided to pursue a master’s degree in urban planning and then worked for a couple of small community development corporations (CDC) in the Chicago area. “I learned about housing from the ground up,” he recently shared. “When you work in a small CDC, you have to do everything from property management, asset management, compliance, and development.”

Todd was focused on housing across three different communities within the city of Chicago at the CDC when he learned of an opportunity to join Mercy Housing Lakefront’s Real Estate Development team. “Instead of bringing housing solutions to the three areas within Chicago, I had the opportunity to work across three states,” Todd explained.

He accepted the job and as the Associate Director of Real Estate for Mercy Housing Lakefront, Todd is responsible for all aspects of development, including working with contractors, attorneys, and internal staff.

Located in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, Major Jenkins community room is highlighted by a newly painted mural.

German Translator Pursues a New Career Path

Daina Jauntirans journey to Mercy Housing Lakefront was a little bit different. Prior to joining the Real Estate Development team 10 months ago, Daina had spent her career working as a German translator.

“I started learning German in high school,” she said. “I then majored in German in college and went on to get my master’s degree in translation.”

Her career as a translator kept her busy – she was translating German financial documents and auditing a variety of things for German-based companies. About five years ago, Daina started to volunteer with an affordable housing advocacy group in her town. It was here that her interest in affordable housing began to grow.

“The translation industry was going through a lot of changes with technology becoming more prevalent, and I decided it may be the right time to go in a different direction,” Daina added.

With experience in financial reporting and project management, Daina had some necessary experience to begin a career in real estate development. Today she is responsible for managing communications, work plans, and schedules, and Daina’s time spent as a translator has come in handy. “I help to translate all of those things so that people understand what we need from them and what we are going to give them,” she explained.

From the DOJ to Mercy Housing Lakefront

For more than 33 years, Sharon Pride worked for the Department of Justice when she was offered an early retirement package. She decided to take it.

A few months later, she realized that retirement life wasn’t for her, and began to look for a new job. Pride came across a job posting from a nonprofit in the Chicago area and was hired as the executive administrative assistant to the CEO.

COVID then hit and like so many others, Pride was laid off. As the COVID restrictions eased, Pride found herself working at another nonprofit that happened to be located right across the street from MHL’s Chicago office. “I enjoyed the work, but it wasn’t the right fit,” Pride said. “I think I came across a job posting from Mercy Housing and applied. I was literally across the street when I interviewed for the position,” she laughed.

Pride is now the administrative assistant for MHL’s real estate development team. “I love working for the organization and our little team,” Pride shared. “I think it’s an excellent organization to work for. I’m learning a lot of new things with real estate.”

Originally built in the 1920s, The Carlton Apartments was recently renovated.

Teamwork Makes Dreamwork

Edgar, Todd, Daina, and Sharon bring a different set of skills to the real estate team. From being good communicators to knowing how to engage with neighbors in the community, bankers, and residents, each one adds to the team’s success. In addition, understanding the complexity of financial documents often involved in real estate transactions, while also understanding what each physical building will need – the architecture, engineering, construction, and maintenance – requires a special skill set.

What’s Next

With the rehabs of The Miriam, Major Jenkins (MJ), and the Carlton Apartments now complete, the team is focusing on The Studios, an affordable housing community located in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood. Mercy Housing currently manages this building, which will be renamed Prairie District Apartments. Once finished, the preservation/rehab of the building will provide permanent supportive housing to 100 residents via 100 studio apartments – 20 of those will be set aside for individuals living with disabilities.

In an adjacent now-vacant parking lot, Mercy Housing Lakefront plans on building a brand-new affordable, multifamily housing community that will feature 30 one-bedroom and 11 two-bedroom apartment homes.

Being a part of the real estate development team means collaboration. “We get to go out to the buildings to see art tags. Another time, we’re talking about plans for building and then we’re talking to lawyers, and then we’re talking to the city…” Daina explains, “One day you’re sitting in front of an Excel sheet for a day. But then the next day, you get to do something else.”