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Mercy Housing Finds Success Providing Affordable Homes

(Visual Description: Truist Commercial Real Estate

Truist title and logo

James Alexander, President, Mercy Housing Southeast)

James Alexander: I’m James Alexander. I’m the president of Mercy Housing Southeast. Our mission is to create service-enriched, affordable housing so that residents who live in housing we own can thrive.

(Visual Description: Thrive Sweet Auburn, Atlanta, Georgia)

James: The idea of Thrive Sweet Auburn came from Project Community Connections Inc. They’ve been serving homeless families for over 20 years.

(Visual Description: Drone footage by James Newsome, Strong Vision Photography)

It’s going to include 117 affordable apartment homes, but the housing really isn’t enough. It really needs to be matched with services.

We do that through connecting families in with health partners, free after-school programming, and economic mobility programs to assist families in chasing their dreams.

(Visual Description: When you care this much, you need a partner who does too.)

James: We started working with Truist in the early 2000s. With Truist, we’ve created over 10 different developments.

(Visual Description: Colin Whittier, Truist Relationship Manager)

Colin Whittier: It’s one of the most open and honest relationships that I’ve ever had in the financial industry.

James: It’s more about sharing challenges, sharing opportunities, having a candid conversation that I think opens up avenues to creativity and partnership that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

Colin: Like, at Thrive Sweet Auburn, there are a couple of electrical switchboards that were delayed due to supply chain issues, and these are the things that actually bring the electricity into the property. And we look at extensions on our project completion date and possibly extensions on the loan itself.

James: Affordable housing is complex. Sometimes there’s seven sources of funding and financing in it.

Colin: And with that comes a lot of rules and regulations and technicalities that it takes years and years of experience to really understand. So I have to call on other partners at Truist Bank to help me navigate the complexity of these deals and help make sure that they get completed.

It’s a great thing to be able to look at a property and a project like Thrive Sweet Auburn, and just realize that Truist is in this deal in so many different ways.

(Visual Description: Truist provided: $17M equity, $9M construction loan, ~$3M long-term debt, $1.9M donation to the Mercy Gap Fund.

Source: Truist Foundation)

James: Truist cares about the work that they do and the impact that they’re making. Truist has been a great partner in helping us to figure out how to overcome challenges over time, from advice around hiring key project managers to what’s happening in the economy overall and how to position a particular development.

They really see it as we do. It’s not about getting a deal done, but it’s how do we have a meaningful impact on the families and seniors who live in the housing so that they can be successful.

Colin: All the data says that if you want to really change somebody’s life, it starts with a safe place to live.

I think when we’re on our computers all day and we’re crunching numbers, you can get lost in that. But when I push away from the desk at night and I can take a step back, I think about just helping them, changing those people’s lives. Really makes the numbers mean something.

(Visual Description: Imagine tomorrow. Build it today.

Truist title and logo)


Truist Bank, Member FDIC. 02023 Truist Financial Corporation. Truist, the Truist logo and Truist Purple are service marks of Truist Financial Corporation.

One nonprofit’s secret to navigating complex real estate deals

Industry expertise

Rethink how to talk to your banker and other partners


Now more than ever, how we communicate with our business partners matters. Leading with empathy and shared values can tighten teams and help solve complex challenges. It can also help leaders forge critical partnerships that stand the test of time. That’s been the case for affordable housing organization Mercy Housing Southeast, whose team has relied on Truist to help them build better lives and communities since the early 2000s.

Here, the nonprofit’s president, James Alexander, shares how communication between their teams has grown—and how that has paid off for their newest community in Atlanta, Thrive Sweet Auburn.


  • Supply disruptions that threatened the completion date
  • Construction costs that skyrocketed beyond initial projections
  • Complex financing sources and funding gaps


  • Seeking diverse insights outside the region and industry
  • Providing transparent updates to investors about emerging issues
  • Developing caring relationships that foster creative problem-solving

Mercy Housing Southeast


Atlanta, Georgia


Parent organization
Mercy Housing, Inc., a national nonprofit founded in 1981 


501(c)(3) nonprofit providing affordable housing and resident services


11 to 50




Truist client for 15+ years

Truist Community Capital and Mercy Housing Southeast: Beyond the bricks and sticks

The needs of residents in affordable housing are deep and diverse—and so is the expertise that Truist provides to help clients in this complex space. One example is our relationship with Atlanta-based Mercy Housing Southeast (MHSE).

“Truist helped launch the first Mercy Housing Southeast development in the Atlanta area, called Orchard Grove,” says James Alexander, president of MHSE. Over the past two decades, with help from Truist, Mercy Housing Southeast has created more than 1,000 affordable homes in more than 10 developments in the Atlanta area.

Graphic showing Mercy Housing Southeast created 1,000 plus affordables in 10 plus developments in 20 years with help from Truist.

The vision for their most recent joint venture came from one of Mercy Housing’s nonprofit partners, Project Community Connections Inc. For more than 20 years, PCCI has been working with partners like MHSE to help Atlantans experiencing housing insecurity. So it’s no surprise that when renovations were needed at PCCI’s offices (located in the city’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood), the nonprofit went above and beyond.

In the new building, their first-floor headquarters will share space with a community kitchen and other amenities, and the three stories overhead will contain 117 affordable apartments for households earning 30% to 80% of the area’s median income. To put this in perspective, James notes that these residents are often the essential workers of our economy. “They’re people making less than $50,000 a year. They’re working in retail. They’re working in healthcare. They’re delivering food to our apartments and homes,” he says.

After hearing PCCI’s plans, MHSE was more than happy to lend a hand—and take the project to the next level: enriching the housing with services that can help residents thrive. Access to transportation, nutrition advice, academic help, and job coaching is part of the framework for MHSE developments like this one, which has been aptly named Thrive Sweet Auburn. “We want residents to be successful in whatever way they define that,” he says.

“Truist has seen it all before, so it’s less about whether there will be bumps in the road and more about how we’ll deal with them together.”
James Alexander
President, Mercy Housing Southeast

Going above and beyond has always been a challenge, notes James, especially since traditional financing often won’t cover service-related costs. But with Thrive Sweet Auburn, which broke ground at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, additional challenges arose. Construction costs skyrocketed and supply chains crumpled.

Thanks to the trust built during the decades-long relationship between Mercy Housing Southeast and Truist, James didn’t feel he had to hide the struggles from his partners at the bank. He reached out to Colin Whittier, his Truist Commercial Real Estate relationship manager, and asked what Truist Community Capital was seeing with other clients. What was happening in the region? With construction costs across the board? What has been the impact on the global economy? How were others navigating it—even in other industries and countries—and how could Mercy Housing Southeast adapt that knowledge to help the nonprofit thrive?

Watch the video to see some of the creative solutions that emerged in the process, and read on for their insights on how to have the kinds of conversations that can help you and your partners be successful, together.

James’ and Colin’s tips: Caring topics can build stronger business ties.

“These affordable housing deals aren’t one and done,” says Colin. “Among other things, Truist has provided low-income housing tax credits, which have a 10-year investment period, and a 15-year permanent loan. When you know you’ll be working together for that kind of time, it becomes even more beneficial to connect on deeper levels.”

For James and Colin, that means spending a good portion of each conversation empathizing with all stakeholders involved: the community, Mercy Housing Southeast residents, and each other. Here are a few topics they say have helped them bond.

Find common ground in your mission and purpose.

More companies are communicating their mission statement and purpose to clients and their communities. But many leaders still don’t discuss these drivers with other partners, such as lenders and investors.

“Our partnership with Mercy Housing Southeast starts with a shared purpose,” says Colin. “Before the Truist purpose was put into words—to inspire and build better lives and communities—their organization was doing that. So James believes in our purpose as much as we do, and vice versa. It’s hugely powerful when you find a partnership that fulfills your purpose and your client’s as well.”

Share personal passions to promote professional openness.

It’s natural to be guarded at first. “Over the past three years, Colin and I have gotten past that,” James says. “Both of our daughters are musically inclined, so we talk about music and piano and singing lessons almost as much as business.”

“Building that personal connection really makes a difference,” says Colin, “because when there are issues, our clients feel like they can pick up the phone and talk to us in a more personal manner.”

Bonus tip from Truist Leadership Institute: Try using the Listen-Ask-Tell approach to show you really care what others are saying. That means listening (without judging or commenting), asking open-ended questions, and then telling the other person something that can help direct their next steps.

“It’s not about the return on this one deal. It’s about how we can help each other be successful so our community can be successful.”
Colin Whittier
Truist Commercial Real Estate Relationship Manager

Be transparent about challenges to get to solutions fast.

“The more we know about our clients, the better we can help them,” says Colin, who appreciates candid conversations like those he has with James. When a client becomes more open and honest with you, it’s a good sign that they see you as a caring partner.

James has found that being straightforward about challenges—as well as staying in touch when things are going well—can open the door to surprising insights. “Truist has been helpful with everything from underwriting deals to offering insights on the economy overall to helping us find the best project managers, which are the people who really drive these developments along,” he says. “For our organization, which is based in Atlanta, to have that kind of relationship with Truist, which has connections throughout the region as well as a global understanding—that’s really invaluable to us.”

Stay focused by discussing the people you’re helping.

It’s easy for businesspeople to get lost in the numbers, says Colin. But he tries to stay grounded by remembering the very real human beings who are impacted by what he does. “It’s why I love to get up in the morning and come to work,” he says.

James agrees. “The one thing I’ve loved most about working with Truist is that they understand that, at the end of the day, what we do is about people. Our residents are our North Star. That’s something we return to when making tough decisions. And that’s not something that we had to educate Truist on. They were already there from the beginning.”

How your business can get there

James’ advice: Consider how you might use everyday communications to show partners and stakeholders that you care about more than the bottom line. What topics are comfortable places to start? What questions might you ask? Keep in mind that your partners may have a greater depth and breadth of expertise than you think—or connections in areas you’re not aware of. Putting care at the center of communications in these ways can help leaders make groundbreaking advances, whatever their industry may be.

Icons and text descriptions for The Results   The results <icon> Extending timelines and deadlines without losing financing <icon> Gaining greater understanding of regional and global economic climates <icon> Delivering on commitments to provide services to residents and communities <icon> Providing 1,000+ homes in 10+ developments over 20 years, with help from Truist

James Alexander
President, Mercy Housing Southeast

“I live in the neighborhood of Thrive Sweet Auburn, and I see homelessness every day when I walk down the street. When my children grow up, I hope they feel like the neighborhood they grew up in is better than it was—and that their dad had an impact on that.”

Colin Whittier
Truist Commercial Real Estate Relationship Manager

“True collaboration is where both sides are trying to help each other perform at their very best. In this case, the new residents of this building and the people in the surrounding community are going to benefit from that.”