(Editor’s note: This is one of two stories about developers who are being honored Nov. 4 for their work with the March of Dimes. The other, on Louis R. Cappelli, is on Page 24.)
There’s a saying that “The road to success is always under construction.”
No need to tell that to Rella Fogliano, the definitive doyenne of affordable housing in lower Westchester County and New York City.
Over the last few decades, the Eastchester resident has found success altering the landscape for prospective homebuyers who may otherwise be priced out of the market.
Fogliano is founder and CEO of Pelham-based MacQuesten Development LLC and MacQuesten Construction Management LLC, companies that specialize in real estate and the design, financing and construction management of predominantly multifamily and mixed-use developments.
On any given day, Fogliano might be donning a hardhat, stomping through one of her massive construction sites or at her desk navigating the complex financial and legal infrastructure of the affordable housing market. She could be forging critical business partnerships or attending her own ribbon cuttings and regaling a crowd from the podium.
She has a portfolio of more than $140 million in completed projects and an anticipated pipeline of more than $250 million to be developed over the next five years.
There’s no doubt Fogliano looms large over her industry. For sure, her aplomb at navigating the many complexities of her job has earned her the hard-won respect of her — mostly male — peers.
But what’s the special sauce that helps her get such large projects over the finish line in an industry that’s as tough as nails?
“Tenacity,” she says. “I don’t take ‘no’ as my final answer. I think it’s part of my DNA. Though I think it also got stronger over time. That’s the great thing about getting older,” she quips.
The world of construction may seem like a left turn for this graduate of Fordham University, who earned a double degree in communications and French. But Fogliano’s company evolved from a family construction business, based in Mount Vernon, where she was no stranger to construction sites. Her father started bringing her to work with him when she was 6-years-old.
Fogliano’s father, Sabino, moved to New York from Bari, Italy, at age 30 with hopes of going into publishing. He took whatever jobs he could get. Eventually, his plans changed. In 1960, he started his own construction company, first in the residential arena then as a mid-range contractor of commercial properties.
His business was buying properties and selling them for a profit. But Fogliano says she had always seen herself more as a developer. As a young girl she would take the train to Manhattan, look up at the buildings on Fifth Avenue and imagine what it would be like to own one herself.
As she grew in the family business, the affordable housing market seemed like a path that might fit both her desire to create and design homes for others as well as a way to follow the dreams of that young girl in the city.
At first, when her father retired, she took over his clients, forming her own company, MacQuesten General Contracting (named for MacQuesten Parkway, the street they started on in Mount Vernon). But within a few years, Fogliano saw an opportunity.
“My dad was acquiring properties in the northeast Bronx in the ’90s,” she says. It was a time when the market had a dearth of middle-income houses. “I said, ‘Let’s look at doing it as affordable housing.’”
That first project was 63 units, Hughes Avenue Crescent, where she, against steep odds, secured a deal under the 9% tax credit program. That accomplishment jump-started her in the industry and It grew from there.
Besides projects throughout the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, New Rochelle and Yonkers, her presence is strong in Mount Vernon.
“We started in Mount Vernon in 1982,” says Fogliano of her first foray into the industry. “So, it was time to look in my own backyard.”
MacQuesten’s portfolio in Mount Vernon includes the Modern, a bright, multicolored, 11-story, affordable housing complex made up of 81 residential units and clad in vibrant Minecraft-like squares of yellows and reds. The exterior was designed to usher in a feeling of renaissance to the industrial area at a development cost of $30 million. The Modern is a block away from the Mount Vernon West train station on Metro-North’s Harlem line, which MacQuesten purchased in 2016 from Davenis Realty Inc. for $3 million in the hope it would be another key component in the city’s revitalization
Also adjacent to the station is 22 South West, MacQuesten’s $95 million, 17-story project with 189 affordable housing units and 149 underground parking spaces. The former site was a gas station (Repetti Service Station) and parking lot, which meant a huge brownfield cleanup was in order.
The development, which opened last year, illustrates Fogliano’s commitment to combining luxury with affordability. “The aesthetic is very important to me,” she says. “I would rather put out a better product even if I lower my profit margin.”
Fogliano’s portfolio of fairly priced structures blended with design-forward features is a formula that’s made her a major player in her field. And she loves every part of it.
“I like the creative process but also enjoy the finance and legal aspects of it,” she says. “I’m involved in every detail. I can’t help myself. Sure, I delegate. But I make sure everything goes through me.”
Fogliano’s projects over the last 10 years have all met the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, a globally recognized rating system for green building. Her effect on the communities she works within has also been recognized by her peers.
She was honored with the Private Developer of the Year award by the New York Housing Conference and National Housing Conference. She was The Business Council of Westchester’s 2015 Business Woman of the Year. And on Nov. 4, Fogliano will receive the March of Dimes Real Estate Award at its Westchester Real Estate Awards Breakfast at The Opus Westchester in White Plains. “I’ve been supporting them for the past five years,” she says of the nonprofit. “It’s unbelievable what they do for infants.”
Fogliano also serves on the board of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesman of the City of New York.
As for what’s next?
“We have a few items in the pipeline,” she says. “We’re working very well with the great city of Yonkers right now on a very exciting project,” she says of the mixed-income housing that will include 77 units of apartments in the heart of downtown on Riverdale and Main streets, an area that does not have a lot of affordable housing. The project’s projected closing is between April and June 2022 and will include 5,500 square feet of retail space.
It will be yet another opportunity for Fogliano to experience her favorite part of the job — watching as people move into the residences she has developed and call them home.
For more, visit macquesten.com. And for more on the March of Dimes’ Westchester Real Estate Awards Breakfast, visit marchofdimes.org/events/Event.aspx?eventId=21929&.