Lewis Brown
Managing Principal, Honeycomb Real Estate Partners
Age: 50

When Lewis Brown proposed an affordable housing development in his hometown of West Hartford, local officials not only supported the project but gave his newly-founded Honeycomb Real Estate Partners firm $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to help complete the financing package. Less than two years after its incorporation, Honeycomb broke ground on the 44-unit Camelot apartments on a former commercial property on Farmington Avenue, and now is preparing to close on a New Haven development site for a 64-unit income-restricted project. A former executive with Simsbury-based developer Vesta Corp. and an attorney, Brown is seeking new development sites and looking to partner with other developers on similar projects adding to Connecticut’s affordable housing stock.

Q: Why was 2022 a good time to start Honeycomb Real Estate Partners?
A: Actually, looking back, with the spike in both interest rates and soaring construction costs, some might question my judgment or sanity for that matter. That said, I’d been with the same real estate development firm for 17 years and prior to that, practiced real estate and construction law in Boston. I really wanted to spread my wings, leverage my more than 20 years of experience and the deep and trusting relationships that I have built over my career. So, despite the external risks and headwinds, in my gut it felt like the timing was right. At the same time, I was seeing a lot of opportunities in Connecticut and there were significant funding initiatives and goals being rolled out by the governor that fit into my business thesis. It felt like the stars were aligning. I started Honeycomb in January 2022 and by April 2022 I had two properties under contract and a third that was moving in that direction. You could say that I got busy pretty quick which was terrific.

Q: How did you identify the Camelot development site in West Hartford?
A friend of mine in the industry who is an architect/developer, Joe Vallone, had been talking with the owner, and when I started Honeycomb he said, “Would you be interested in looking at this with me?” Having grown up in West Hartford, I was quite familiar with the site and thought it was a fantastic location for affordable housing, particularly given all of the high-end market-rate housing that was coming out of the ground in West Hartford. It felt like there was a real opportunity on the corner of “Main and Main,”to use the real estate phrase, to make an impact in a high-opportunity destiny suburban area that’s within walking distance to employment and grocery stores and so many amenities.

Q: How did the capital stack come together?
It’s 4 percent LITC [low-income housing tax credit development]. The construction and permanent financing is through CHFA [Connecticut Housing Finance Agency], and there’s CHFA opportunity funds as well, Department of Housing soft funds, ARPA funds from the town of West Hartford, and DECD funds for the environmental work.

Q: What were West Hartford officials like to deal with in their stance toward affordable multifamily development?
A: It was extraordinarily refreshing. West Hartford saw the same need we saw and they were collaborative and wanted to solve problems, not the opposite. There are a lot of towns in Connecticut that have similar needs, but the idea of partnership, unfortunately, is not always there.

Q: What is the timeline for the Monarch development in New Haven?
A: We have a 64-unit apartment development site in New Haven at 149 Derby Ave. It was previously the home to the oldest dry cleaner in New Haven, Monarch Cleaners. We’re taking a dirty site, and the image is similar to that of a Monarch butterfly, and turning that into a positive and vibrant community. We are moving to a closing hopefully by the end of next month, and the capital stack is identical to West Hartford. The income range is also 80 [percent area median income] and below. We have 64 apartments and we also are offering three-bedrooms, where in West Hartford we couldn’t because of the size of the site.

Q: How optimistic are you about the financing environment in the near future for this type of product?
A: We are very committed and believe in the state of Connecticut. We think there is a lot of wind behind the sails and positive momentum for a variety of reasons, including the Governor’s bold and trailblazing agendas around funding for, employment creation, housing, infrastructure and transportation. We look forward to our work making a meaningful contribution and impact as affordable housing is a key spoke in the wheel of the broader agenda. In order to achieve that, one of the tenets of our business plan is to partner with other nonprofit and for-profit developers and to bring synergies to opportunities with a goal of creating an even greater impact in communities throughout the state.

Brown’s Five Favorite Activities

  1. Regular morning mindfulness practice
  2. Adventurous travel with family and friends
  3. Cooking with family and friends, with good music mixing in the air with savory scents
  4. Visiting his kids at college
  5. Long walks with his dogs Brody and Jerry