Joseph Shepard always had a calling to help the less fortunate, and throughout his career, he’s answered that call by developing and investing in affordable housing for elderly and low-income families.
“After seeing families in inner cities and rural communities struggling with the most basic needs—particularly finding safe, affordable housing—I felt I had to use the skills I had developed in business to make a difference for those without the means to do so for themselves,” he says.
Shepard has distinguished himself as one of America’s leading advocates for the development of affordable housing.
“When you see the homes some families are living in and know that you have the ability to help them move into nice, safe homes for their kids to grow up in, you know that you’re doing something significant; something that improves their lives and increases their opportunities for success in the future,” he adds. “That’s why this is so important to me.”
Creating Economic Opportunities
Like a lot of recent college graduates in 1968, Joseph Shepard was witness to remarkable change. The conflict in Vietnam was escalating, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated.
“That was such a turbulent time that required a lot of soul searching,” he recalls. “The country was dealing with a great deal of turmoil, especially with the assassinations of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy. Riots were taking place across the country.”
Seeing a lack of access to the tools of entrepreneurship in the African-American community of St. Louis, Shepard co-founded Black Enterprise Today (BET), an urban empowerment organization designed to help African-American residents and businesses in St. Louis gain access to capital and increased economic opportunity.
“The basic concept was to bring resources such as financing and management expertise to the inner city African-American community, which in 1968 didn’t have access to them,” he says.
BET helped organize an association of minority contractors that, until then, were unable to bid on construction jobs in St. Louis.
“In addition, we worked with Burger Chef to build two new restaurants in the St. Louis inner city and find and work with local business people as new franchisees. We worked with Wetterau/IGA to sell two grocery stores to two new local African-American owners thereby securing them for the community.”
A Focus on Affordable Housing
Shepard’s interest in affordable housing emerged in the early 1970s while working for the architecture firm Hoffmann/Saur and touring the community of Hayti Heights, Missouri.
“People were living in shacks with corrugated metal roofing, using wax paper for windows,” he recalls. “The belief that I could do something to develop better, safer places for these families to live gave me a great sense of purpose.”
In 1976, he formed Group Three Construction, which developed housing units for local families and kicked off a nearly five-decade-long effort to help low-income families and create opportunity in struggling communities.
Projects in Hayti and DeSoto, Missouri, served as a springboard for the growth of Shepard’s affordable housing development interests.
Supporting Rural Communities
Seeing a dire need for affordable housing in rural communities, Shepard focused much of his efforts in communities where many larger developers were not active at the time.
As a co-founder and the second president of the Council for Rural Housing Development (now the Council for Affordable Rural Housing), Shepard worked with leaders in Washington to develop a new tax credit program for assisted housing development.
Back in St. Louis, Shepard formed Lockwood Realty which eventually expanded to working in 23 states, developing more than 20 rural housing projects a year and employing more than 2,000 people in all of his companies.
With true entrepreneurial spirit, Shepard also formed Reliant Care Group in 1989. Under Shepard RCG managed skilled nursing facilities with over 1000 beds, an outpatient rehabilitation center and several related businesses, until he sold those businesses in 2003.
Maintaining his commitment to providing safe, affordable housing for people in need, Shepard co-founded Sugar Creek Realty (now Sugar Creek Capital) in 2001. From its inception, he has helped build the company into a leader in affordable housing, focusing on long-term partnerships in quality developments.
“We’ve built something very special here at Sugar Creek, because we have built around quality people,” he adds. “At the end of the day, we’re helping to develop housing for families that otherwise would not be able to afford it and positively impact their lives.”