EUROPE NEWS: Making the grade

A Chicago-based private equity firm is bringing its tested approach to student housing to Europe.

Harrison Street Real Estate Capital opened a London office in December and hired Dan Gorzawski, a former managing director at AIG Global Real Estate Investment Europe, to lead the firm's entrance into the European market. After two years looking at options across the Atlantic, the firm has inked its first student housing deal in Ireland and is eyeing opportunities in the UK, the Netherlands and Spain. The firm is also in “advanced discussions” about Germany, Gorzawski said.

In Europe, Harrison Street is planning a similar growth trajectory to its US business, where it has raised five opportunistic funds and built a core product since its 2005 founding. In its new targeted region, the firm will first deploy the student housing-focused fund's capital over the next two years before exploring an expansion into other property types. It also plans to eventually build Europe-focused core products.

“If you look at the European landscape with respect to the student space, the first you would note is that it's tremendously underserved in terms of purpose-built beds,” said Rob Mathias, the firm's principal and co-head of acquisitions who will oversee Gorzawski's European expansion. “As we started to talk to developers and operators in the student space in Europe, it was very clear to us that we could be more than just equity capital to them in a joint venture format.”

Harrison Street joins other North American investors, including the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board and Greystar Real Estate Partners, which in the last year have crossed the Atlantic with big checks in hand to capture their shares of this growing niche market.