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Bricks and Mortarboards Unite at MIT as Veris Residential Forms Partnership

January 18, 2023 — By Joe Clements

CAMBRIDGE — Embracing a mindset that two heads are better than one, “socially conscious” NYSE REIT Veris Residential Inc. (VRE) has formed a collaborative partnership with MIT Center for Real Estate focused on “advancing and optimizing multifamily real estate” practices in both fiscal and physical applications, leaders of the New Jersey based trust and school officials announced today.

“We are very excited about this partnership,” Veris Chief Executive Officer Mahbod Nia says of the collaboration in an interview with Real Reporter, explaining the union evolved out of an “in-house think tank” assembled in 2022 as a way of bringing together staffers from different company disciplines to promote best practices and “forward-thinking” changes with encouragement, striking gold in a recent instance where a facilities manager cut heating costs in one project by 50 percent simply by making a non-invasive, cost-free adjustment.

To Nia, that is reflective of more than a one-time benefit or anecdote, but rather underscoring a company where team members are part of the firm’s bottom line aspirations that can be “greatly enhanced” using that approach. A peer learning of the success Veris was having with the think tank—known as Innovation Lab— suggested a broader campaign that came with an introduction to MIT as one viable outlet. The resulting collaboration announced today, Nia stresses, reflects “our continuous pursuit of operational excellence underpinned by innovation across our offices, properties and the communities in which we” are located, including metropolitan Boston where Veris holds about 1,200 units in four assets, including East Boston, Malden and Worcester. Nia brings over 20 years of multifamily experience to the table, successfully executing over $12 billion of transactions, with prior stops at the likes of NorthStar Capital and, prior to that, a couple of upstarts known as Goldman Sachs and Citigroup.

“We recognize innovation in the real estate industry requires diverse perspectives, and we are excited by the prospect of what we can achieve by combining MIT/CRE’s extraordinary resources and wealth of knowledge in the field with our practical, forward-thinking approach to managing multifamily properties,” says Nia, whose firm has been on a growth mode lately and intends to continue, its inventory presently at about 23 buildings and 8,000 apartments concentrated in northern New Jersey and the Boston area.

Veris also formally introduced the Innovation Lab, and says it “will work closely with MIT/CRE’s global network of alumni, researchers, affiliates and industry partners to study real world challenges in multifamily real estate and aim to devise novel solutions that can be adopted by multifamily owners, operators and developers.”

In a prepared statement, MIT/CRE Executive Director and Professor Kairos Shen praises Veris for its desire to advance the professionalism and performance of the housing sector, relaying MIT “is excited” to collaborate “as we look to continue assembling thought leaders dedicated to studying real estate operations and developing strategies that ensure the industry effectively and efficiently evolves for the future,” while adding that, “In working with this pre-eminent multifamily REIT, we believe we will further enhance the creation of solutions that address digital, sustainable and consumer-friendly issues throughout the real estate sector.”

MIT/CRE Director of Industry Relations Paul E. Adornato tells Real Reporter that there are more than two dozen corporate partners who are helping the Center meet those goals outlined by Shen and “we gratefully welcome Veris and their talented management group” to bring its brain trust expertise to the effort, with the firm being immediately recruited to participate in an ambitious program to develop a “Decarbonization Tool Kit” that can help landlords of commercial buildings wean their structures off inefficient energy practices and systems with an actual guide being created by using companies active out in the field every day, especially organizations making a commitment to those goals such as Veris.

Of course, eternal friction between green practices and quarterly results where firms such as Veris need to combat the color red can be a dilemma for corporate leaders, and no one might be in a better position to understand that than Adornato, an MIT Center alum (1992) who returned in his current capacity after three decades as a REIT analyst, an era where for the most part, there was little room in the value proposition for environmental leanings. Fortunately, Adornato reports, the corporate world is finally coming to embrace not only the fiscal acuity of their entities but also a humanistic consideration; he notes, for example, that ESG reports are now commonplace in corporate statements; adds large investors such as Prologis are doing serious research on climate impacts, and increasingly he says it is showing a plan in place to address environmental matters will actually be rewarded by Wall Street. Veris Residential “fits well” into that mode, maintains Adornato, most recently an analyst at BMO Capital Market from 2005 to 2017 before coming to MIT, with prior private sector stints at Merrill Lynch and PaineWebber.

Of Veris, Adornato says the company’s energy and desire to “look outside the box” should serve them well at MIT, and beyond.

“They are years ahead of their peers, and that is always encouraging to see when you have a bright, young management team thinking ahead of not only their financial responsibilities but also the duty to address issues such as climate change and making this a more equitable world,” relays Adornato. “It shows you can turn a profit, but you can do it without disastrous consequences, and that is certainly becoming more important now than ever.”

Nia says Veris staffers “are eager” to help MIT Center on topics such as the decarbonization program. “It is a major issue that needs to be addressed quickly,” he says.

Paul Adornato Kairos Shen Mahbod Nia