When it comes to unique development projects and affordable housing, few can match Fayez Kazi’s understanding of Austin’s complicated market.
As the chief executive of the Civilitude Group of Companies, Kazi oversees firms that offer services in housing, commercial real estate development and engineering — all operating with the goal of creating a better community for all.
Launched in 2010, the organization includes the land development firm Civilitude Engineers & Planners; Capital A Housing, a developer of affordable and mixed-income projects; Constructinople, a woman- and minority-owned design and construction firm; Urbanuity, which specializes in market-rate real estate infill development; the realty brokerage and property management Fabitat; and K91 Management, the internal management company for the group.
Now rebranded as HEXAH, the organization is behind the new mixed-use affordable housing development Seabrook Square. The project is set to rise just south of Mueller along Manor Road. The group also served a key role in ensuring the advancement of a plan to turn downtown Austin’s vacant HealthSouth complex into a new development with hundreds of residential units, with more than 200 affordable homes.
With a portfolio representing more than 12 years of work in Central Texas, the group has a legacy of providing solutions to the city’s ever-increasing affordable housing dilemma.
“We are trying to think outside of the box,” Kazi said. “When I started Civilitude, I was only 10 years into the career. But the industry is so old that I just brought a fresh set of eyes to it and we are trying to do the same thing with affordable housing development.”
Having served as chair and vice chair of the city’s Planning Commission between 2015 and 2020, Kazi occupies a unique position at the intersection of development-focused entrepreneurship and local policy.
“It’s all about stepping back far enough to see all the tools that you can use,” Kazi said. “I want to do what’s best for the community. But I feel like I can do what’s best for the community and still have the returns that are comparable to folks that are doing, you know, market rate.”
Why did you decide to rebrand the Civilitude Group of Companies to HEXAH? I’ve been refining the pitch. Some of our folks say HEXAH is to Civilitude what Alphabet is to Google. We will do all of our work under the umbrella of HEXAH. So it was just sort of bringing everything together so that folks know that all those entities are connected. That was the motivation.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? So I was an observer right from the start. I looked at the folks around me. My dad was an engineer and a general contractor; my dad’s brothers were doctors. So those were the two professions, I felt like, I had to pick from.
You have your hands in a lot of pots. When people ask what you do for a living, what do you tell them? It’s evolved over time, but now I say I helped create leaders in the land development real estate world. I am the guardrail in the bowling alley — they’re bowling and I’m just keeping them in the alley. That’s the most recent pitch that I have.
Do you have any particular morning routines? I wake up at 4 a.m. I have some time just to myself to just think and reflect. And then I have a morning prayer that I do, and then I read from the Quran. That’s kind of been my routine for awhile. My best ideas come in early morning. But soon after that, I have to rush and get the kids ready, get them in the car and drop them off to school.
What do you think are the largest challenges when it comes to affordable housing in Austin? I’m optimistic because I’ve seen the behind-the-scenes — all the politicking — and I’ve seen implementing the policies, and so I feel like I can relate to both sides and influence both sides. There are these camps and they’re so polarized. There is a lack of just evaluating a project for its merits versus always feeling like you have to be on one camp or the other camp.
With our non-strong mayor government, the Council only has limited power and then there’s sort of this disconnect between Council and staff. The staff has done what it’s done for a while and has had the same leadership for a while. So it’s been challenging for us with that disconnect, to be in the policy side, and know what the intent was. And then the staff is interpreting, you know, maybe filling in the gaps, because the policy is still sort of broad. When they’re implementing rules, there’s something lost in translation, and we have to work sort of swim upstream. Those are the two big challenges that I see.
What’s your outlook for the future of affordable housing development here in Austin? I’m pretty optimistic. I think that the passing of the housing bond, that’s a huge plus. That means we have some runway to catch up. Unfortunately for us, as we’re being creative, and folks learn about the creative ways to structure these deals, or pencil these deals, there’ll be others who just kind of follow our path. So we’ll create more competitors for us, but the good news is that it’s going to be reducing the gap between the supply and demand.
As a successful entrepreneur, what advice would you give someone who wants to go out and do something on their own? If I were to just look at my own experience, there were two or three really transformative moments. Obviously, the first one was just making the leap. Another one was that I learned pretty quickly that I didn’t have all the skills that were needed. I didn’t have all the answers. And so it was about surrounding myself with folks that I thought had those skills or those answers and then having coaches. It was really kind of admitting that I couldn’t do it all on my own.
Do you have a specific approach to networking? I don’t feel like I’m a great networker. It’s worked for me. I’m super introverted and so what I lean on is I surround myself with folks that are really good at networking.
What is your favorite thing about Austin? I came to the University of Texas in search of creativity and technical academics. I found that creativity in the people of Austin. That’s what I would say is my favorite thing — it’s the creativity and the resiliency. We have had a lot thrown at us in the last few years: the winter storm, growth, unaffordability and the pandemic. I think it’s that creativity, resiliency and engagement within the community. I just love all the things that Austin has to offer. You have got everything that you would want to do outdoors. Then you’ve got lots of sand volleyball courts. That’s where I spend a lot of my free time.
What’s your least favorite thing about the city right now? The polarizing politics and the unaffordability that we are in. You know, hindsight is 20/20. The land development code, which I still have PTSD from that whole process — we were so close to the finish line and got tossed out by the county judge. I feel like if we had just crossed that bridge, that we wouldn’t be where we are now. We wouldn’t have the kind of crisis that we have today. The good news is we’re in the business of trying to work to find solutions to that.
What are your favorite restaurants in Austin? Franklin Barbecue is a big favorite because they use Creekstone Farms beef, which happens to be halal. It’s the kosher version in our Muslim tradition. It’s just great that the most popular spot for tourists in town happens to be halal and that’s a big deal for us. Then there is Usta Kababgy. I have got several Council members and county commissioners hooked on it. It’s a little hole in the wall in North Lamar. It’s Middle Eastern and Turkish food.
Do you have any ways that you de-stress or wind down from the day? So the morning routine is kind of a stress reliever, but in the afternoon and weekends its sand volleyball — as much of that as I can get in. That is the one thing I could probably do every night if I didn’t have other family obligations.
Title: CEO, HEXAH
Family: Wife, Kaamileh Hamid; daughters Hayah, 17, Jazaa, 11 and Aziza, 8
Education: University of Texas at Austin
Email: [email protected]