Building a community with purpose

February 10, 2022
Jon Toppen, '96, co-founded Tapestry Development to provide quality, affordable housing to those who need it most.

It’s not every day faculty receive mail from alumni, so when Joe Hoyle opened a letter from Jon Toppen, ’96, he took note. Toppen had recently seen Hoyle’s profile in the University of Richmond Magazine and was prompted to thank the professor for the influence and inspiration he provided during Toppen’s undergraduate years.

Toppen followed a typical path for accounting graduates and settled in Richmond as a private industry CPA after graduation. “I didn’t think this would be my ultimate career path, but it was a launching pad to my final destination,” Toppen shared.

During his time in the Museum District, Toppen became “captivated by cities” and decided to pursue a master’s of city and regional planning at UNC Chapel Hill with a specialization in housing and community development, a program that emphasizes affordable housing development and neighborhood revitalization.

“This was the perfect pairing of my undergraduate accounting knowledge and social interests in land use and public policy to make a career,” he said.  

Toppen talked to “anyone and everyone” in the affordable housing field and found a job in real estate development in Atlanta, Ga., working with non-profits to learn everything he could about affordable rental housing and development. At the depths of the recession in 2010, Toppen was working with an innovative non-profit that was an early pioneer in affordable housing development but was struggling during the downturn. Toppen and a few colleagues took it as an opportunity to start on their own with Tapestry Development Group

“We have had a really successful run over the years,” he said. “There is a pre-conception that all affordable housing is 'Section 8'. That is simply not true and we are working to change that notion. As a non-profit organization, we are able to take on projects our for-profit peers would not pursue. They might make less money and take more time, but they have a higher social impact.” 

As a consultant through the entire development process, Tapestry is committed to developing the environment from start to finish with a common purpose of community-building—from finding the land, hiring the architect, and conducting environmental tests and market studies, to submitting the permits, overseeing the general contractor, and understanding the financing programs.

“We specialize in creative problem-solving to develop affordable housing,” Toppen shared. “We want to enhance the built environment but also people’s lives as well.” This includes forming relationships with local social service agencies to help connect residents to resources like mental health programs and legal services. “It is really rewarding to focus on forming relationships within localities to bring opportunities to the residents and embed ourselves in the community.”

One project Toppen is particularly proud of is Tapestry’s redevelopment of Phoenix House, a supportive housing community in Atlanta. Originally built in the 1980s, the property was obsolete and falling apart and with new construction and rehabilitation, the community now includes 69 units and provides onsite mental health services to formerly homeless individuals with mental illness. “These are individuals who would otherwise likely be on the streets,” Toppen said. “We help provide them with a permanent mailing address, a place to keep their belongings, stability.”

In the coming year, Toppen looks forward to working on historic renovation projects and expanding Tapestry’s reach in neighboring states.  

Recent Tapestry Development Group Projects

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