The year was 1923. That is when the Yarco story began. Two entrepreneurial brothers-in-law, Norman Yarmo and Harry Cohn, seeing a need for professional property management services, created Yarco Development. The company’s name came from a combination of their last names—Yarmo and Cohn. Driven by their dedication to successful partnership and shared values, Yarmo and Cohn committed themselves to innovative execution of professional real estate services.
Today, as Kansas City’s largest apartment management company, Yarco remains committed to their founding principles. The company’s success can be seen in its key role in managing or developing 336 real estate enterprises, representing 37,000 apartment homes and more than half a million square feet of commercial space. Its portfolio includes family apartment communities, senior apartment communities, market rate communities, and communities with affordability restrictions.
Of these, Yarco and its principals have been directly responsible for the creation of more than 7,000 apartments of service enriched housing, to better support the life needs of underprivileged and underserved populations. Yarco’s current activities focuses on development and management of multi-family and mixed-use communities.
If you are looking for a qualifier for its success, look no further than its wealth of recognitions and awards, including The National Apartment Association's “Award of Excellence for the Best Affordable Property in the United States,” the Kansas City Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work Award” and “Capstone Award” (twice), the Society of Financial Service Professionals’ “Kansas City Business Ethics Award,” the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “Property of the Year Award,” the Missouri Governor’s “Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing” (twice), and many others.
We sat down with CEO Jonathan Cohn to to learn about one of Yarco's current signature projects, Second + Delaware—one of the largest Passive House-certified buildings in the world—and get his perspective on the future of multi-family.
Give us a snapshot of the Second + Delaware brand?
Second + Delaware is built to a distinctly higher standard. At the community, you will find spacious, light-filled residences where the design delivers unprecedented thermal comfort, lasting quality and Kansas City’s most livable neighborhood at your doorstep. We benefit from the best of the past, while building for a lifestyle that benefits the future.
Second + Delaware is one of the largest Passive House buildings in the world, which means that it uses 80%-90% less energy than conventional buildings and has superior indoor air quality. The green roofs and courtyards are designed to be extensions of living space, offering places to connect, garden and enjoy the Kansas City skyline, and the sun setting over the Missouri River.
People’s daily lives are continuing on. People are adapting. The nature of work is adapting, too, but a growing number of people will still benefit from the features and flexibility of leasing an apartment home.
What type of residents are you targeting?
We are targeting potential residents who are mindful not only about their immediate surroundings, but about how the choices they make in terms how to live impacts the world around them.
How does the overall design of your homes cater to what today's consumers are looking for?
The Passive House model is one that focuses on health—not only personal health, but the health of our environment. Before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, these priorities truly matter. Things like superior air filtration systems, easy access to an abundance of outdoor spaces—i.e., the large central courtyard or rooftop gardens—and other elements like that, really appeal to a more health-conscious consumer. And from an environmental standpoint, our energy efficiency makes our footprint on Earth much lighter than most.
What are some of the adjustments you made with/to your business model surrounding the recent state of events?
Luckily, we have not had to change much because the project was nearly complete when COVID-19 hit. We did experience some construction/material delays, but no major set-backs. Leasing has also been going very well with virtual tours and people being more accustomed to searching for their next place to live online.
We believe as a result of implementing Passive House design and construction methods at Second + Delaware, where the community consumes 80-90% less energy than other buildings.
What kind of conversations are you having with your customers?
Most prospective residents are excited about the idea of living downtown, particularly in Kansas City’s River Market—and they are looking for something truly special, which brings them to us. Many customer conversations are oriented around the features and benefits of the Passive House model. We tell people to imagine it as if the building was wearing a warm wool sweater—highly insulated and comfortable. Otherwise, the standard questions around price, amenities and such have dominated our recent conversations.
What role should a brand play in being a leader in a distressed market like this?
We believe as a result of implementing Passive House design and construction methods at Second + Delaware, where the community consumes 80%-90% less energy than other buildings, not only do residents benefit, but so does the greater good. The triple-glazed windows and 16-inch thick, insulated walls provide a pleasant, interior temperature year-round. When scaled globally, Second + Delaware has the potential to remove 10 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere annually—a meaningful step to solving global climate change. Significant approaches like this are what creates change in our market and beyond.
What is the best piece of advice you can offer to other multifamily brands in how to deal with the unthinkable like this?
Accomplishing anything extraordinary comes down to the experience and resources of the team. Building this special property in this environment felt unthinkable at times, to be sure. But as Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough and fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Our mission to build this amazing development is our fulcrum. And our carefully assembled, world-class team is our lever. Yarco is extremely fortunate to have Arnold Development and Berkshire Hathaway as our partners in Second + Delaware, and Crossland Construction as our GC, and a host of many more amazing teammates too long to list.
Give us a snapshot of today's multifamily market from your perspective.
Generally, renter demand remains strong. While submarkets vary, the multi-family sector today will see a bit of a slow down on new construction due to various fallout effects of our struggling economy, but the data indicates that multifamily real estate will remain strong in the medium- and long-term.
What is likely to happen next?
People’s daily lives are continuing on. People are adapting. The nature of work is adapting, too, but a growing number of people will still benefit from the features and flexibility of leasing an apartment home. Leases expire, jobs change and so on, so we anticipate the multifamily market will be just fine.
What trends are defining the space?
The past few years have seemed like an arms race when it comes to on-site amenities. We are still seeing a bit of that, but people are also starting to see through the amenities as just marketing tactics to get them in the door. Renters will continue to be more aware of the health of their environment, and increasingly appreciate authenticity from the manager/resident dialogue.
What is your short-term strategy? Long-term?
The short-term strategy is to leverage new approaches to business as needed in this COVID world, and use those to further provide the best possible experience for our residents—across all communities. Long-term, we remain committed to real estate opportunities that can dramatically improve or transform lives and the community for the better. For 98 years, we have always put people and mission before profit, and we will continue that focus.
What is the most defining part of the units/location?
Perhaps the most defining qualities about the units themselves are the oversized, high-efficiency windows that allow for an abundance of natural light, combined with the 16-inch thick concrete floors and walls. While some think of concrete as cold and uninviting, the thickness and insulation creates thermal control, producing a warmth and durability that we think residents will love.
When it comes to location, Second + Delaware sits right on the Missouri River in KC’s River Market neighborhood. One of the oldest and most charming in all of the KC metro. The building is a short walk away from the streetcar, which can take riders several miles north/south for free (an expansion will take them even further south by 2024). There are also numerous shops, restaurants, the largest Farmer’s Market in the city, and much more, right at our doorstep.
Walk us through how and why it is designed the way it is?
Early 20th Century residential buildings in big cities featured large, protected, landscaped courtyards where urban homes were oases to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Second + Delaware builds on that model, and includes best practices in energy efficiency and long-lasting construction for residents’ ultimate comfort. We saw tremendous value in that approach from the beginning, and designed the property to benefit from it.
What is the biggest issue today related to the construction side of the business?
Material delays and generally higher costs due to COVID.
The past few years have seemed like an arms race when it comes to on-site amenities. We are still seeing a bit of that, but people are also starting to see through the amenities as just marketing tactics to get them in the door.
Talk about sustainability. What are you doing?
Passive House is all about sustainability. We are in it 100%.
What type of opportunities do you see moving ahead?
We could see repeating the Passive House design and construction process in other locations. Building for life and quality versus quick turn projects is what we foresee moving ahead.
What trends are you seeing/expecting?
A continued emphasis on high quality air filtration, easy access to outdoors/open spaces, and fewer amenities that do not bring significant value such as tanning beds.
What is the secret to creating a "must visit" location in today's competitive landscape?
Consider what your audience wants, not just today or tomorrow, but years from now. They may not know it yet, but as change agents, we must consider the long-term. The Henry Ford quote, “If I asked the people what they wanted, they would’ve said a faster horse,” is exactly what I mean here.
What is the biggest item on your to-do list right now?
Finish up the project and get fully leased. We are close.
Tell us what makes the brand so unique?
Our approach to design and construction with Passive House, and the way we have chosen to build the brand based off of that. Instead of a printed brochure on regular paper, for example, we used plantable seed paper that can grow into wild flowers. We are working to be intentional and live our brand ethos every step of the way.
Jonathan Cohn, CEO of Yarco Company Inc.
Describe a typical day.
One of the things I love most about a career developing and managing real estate is the amazing variety of tasks and challenges—there is really no typical day. Even though each month includes similar components, from day to day I have to focus on that day’s most important challenge or opportunity. Especially in the last several months, there has been a lot going on to navigate these challenging times, and it has taken more attention and dedication than ever.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Without a doubt, it is finding ways to consistently stay true to Yarco’s roots, which are grounded in helping others. Two particular undertakings stand out. The first is St. Michael's Veterans Center Apartments, a Kansas City campus of permanent affordable housing and supportive services where 130 formerly homeless veterans now reside and are rebuilding their lives with our help.
When we can impact veterans or those less fortunate by providing them with a home is what is most rewarding to me. The second is Phoenix Family Housing Corporation (PFHC), which provides sustainable social services to at-risk residents, and improves the quality of life for more than 5,000 people each year. PFHC was co-founded by Yarco principals more than two decades ago, and has long since become an independent charity. It still remains a passion of ours to support and promote their activities, and further their mission.
What was the best advice you ever received?
Yarco founder Harry Cohn told me, “No difficult problem can be properly faced without more patience and grit than you think you have. But you do have it.”
What is the best thing a client ever said to you?
“I don’t know how we could have done any of this without you.” — The late Reverend Harold Anderson, client and business partner.