Bernard "Bernie" Glieberman, Chairman of Governmental Affairs & Public Policy, Home Renewal Systems
Bernard "Bernie" Glieberman, Chairman of Governmental Affairs & Public Policy, Home Renewal Systems

Bernie Glieberman was all grown up at a young age, which maybe makes sense of the fact that at nearly 60 years later, he's lost none of his youthful passion for what he does. Which is make homes and communities for people.

Glieberman's calling came early and it came hard. His father--a builder developer in the Detroit area--died when Bernard turned 17. With a bit of accounting and business coursework focus in high school under his belt, Bernie stepped up into the family real estate concern in 1957, and by the time he was 21, made partner in a real estate company.

Bernie's blend of involuntary maturity, boundless youthful zeal, and a canny feel for what makes people in real estate tick catapulted him to open the doors of his own, Novi, Mich.-based, home building and development firm, Crosswinds Communities, which specialized in earlier iterations of modular and factory-built as well as conventional stick-built homes in infill tracts, but eventually made itself equally at home in master planned community and suburban subdivisions. Ten years ago this month, when Bernie was 66, his enterprise's operations spanned seven states, and closed on 2,200 homes on revenues of $529 million in 2005, ranking it No. 42 on the Builder 100. A mere two years later, Crosswind's name was nowhere to be found on the Builder 100 list, a casualty of the most brutal housing depression anyone alive can still remember.

Glieberman, of course, did not let that stop him. Here's a guy, after all, who of a Saturday has a regular weekly commitment with a couple of friends and colleagues to hop in one of their cars and troll hundreds of miles in all directions of the greater Detroit metropolitan area--to scout land parcels. Here's a guy who only needs to type the letters "ad" into a Google search field before the term "adaptive reuse and lofts" springs into view.

Bernie Glieberman fancied himself getting back into single-family for sale home building one day, when the throes of the Great Recession gave way to a normal, cyclical rebound in housing. He's not so sure now, and for the time being anyway, the Crosswinds name remains in mothballs.

"You can't build single-family homes at a truly affordable price point, with all the local lot fees, delays, and layers of cost packed into the price tag of the home," says Bernie, who's in town for the AHF Live: Housing Developers Forum in his capacity as chairman of governmental affairs & public policy for HRS Communities, getting underway today in Arlington, Va. "It's absolutely crazy, and the minute interest rates go up a couple of points, watch how out of whack that will get with household incomes. We're in another price bubble, but the artificially low interest rates are masking that."

The Gateway, an HRS Communities senior-living community in Fremont, Mich.

So, while single-family, for-sale housing development may not make the repertoire, this Bernie's most definitely still feeling the Bern. Listen to him tell you about The Gateway, a senior-living community for low income residents in Fremont, Mich. The bones of the place consist of an iconic 1910 high school building, where many of its current residents went themselves to chemistry classes, shop, and formed an unbreakable bond with their own sense of self, self-esteem, and accomplishment.

For Glieberman, The Gateway is clearly not just a project. Nor is the deal Home Renewal Systems, the organization led by his daughter Tracey Katzen, is about to start in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in Marquette, just a project. It's a building that started life as Holy Family Orphanage in 1914, and operated as such until 1965. It essentially has been abandoned since 1981.

Holy Family Orphanage, Marquette, Mich.
Holy Family Orphanage, Marquette, Mich.

"We went to the city of Marquette with our proposal, and they said, 'we've had 11 broken deals on the property in the last 40 years, so what makes you think yours is going to work?'" Bernie tells us. "The plan is for 55 units, for veterans and families, mostly below market rate incomes. We've got an $11 million capital stack for the project, and a $650,000 mortgage on it ourselves, so we're excited to see it happen. It's a beautiful building."

Yes, Bernie feels the Bern, just as hot as it was from the time he was 17 and felt the tap of responsibility, and the gift of his capacity to take care of others. For Glieberman, each time he Google's "loft" or "adaptive reuse," he's feeling the Bern. "I love adaptive reuse." Not too many people can say that and be entirely sincere as he is.

"It's not just about real estate and development and construction," says Glieberman. "It's about changing lives."