In mid-November, the Diversity in Commercial Real Estate (DCRE) Virtual Summit brought together more than 450 attendees from across the United States to hear a discussion of issues and topics of interest and impact to those engaged in diversifying the commercial real estate industry. Supported in part by the Urban Land Institute, this gathering is a venue for people of color to network and learn.
The 2020 DCRE Virtual Summit—a part of the Avant-Garde Network—sought to help people of color break into the world of commercial real estate (CRE), a field in which historically no more than 2 percent of senior executive positions in the United States are held by people of color, despite working in environments where the population is primarily nonwhite.
The focus of this year’s summit was on diversifying the commercial real estate industry from the executive leadership and entrepreneurial perspective. In past years, the summit drew primarily from the greater New York City area, but by going virtual it was able to attract a larger pool of attendees and speakers.
In the event’s program, AGN founder Adeola Adejobi, an attorney and entrepreneur, said, “As we gather for this online event, let us remember that people of color have amazing businesses and aspire to be leaders within their companies and organizations, yet lack access to capital and industry opportunities.”
Speakers emphasized that people of color face significant challenges breaking into the capital-intensive world of CRE. Don Peebles, founder, chairman, and CEO of the Peebles Corporation, said that investors often ask first if Black developers can execute on the deal before even looking at the deal itself. A major challenge for any developer is financing, he said, but even more so for people of color.
Peebles also spoke at the 2020 ULI Virtual Fall Meeting, saying, “I take a great deal of pride—and a big part of what I get out of doing business today as becoming an elder statesman at 60—is to see the next generation of entrepreneurs who are creative, and be able to make their marks and knock down barriers that confront people of color.”
The “manel”—a panel discussion made up of only male speakers—is becoming a thing of the past, particularly at an event focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. To the delight of attendees, one panel flipped that dated script by featuring Black, female executives in the minority- and women-owned business (MWBE) space.
Tammy Jones, cofounder and chief executive officer of Basis Investment Group, shared her own experience with the hurdles that she has to jump through to access capital. Jones said that sometimes she prepares a sample portfolio, in effect making the financial case to herself, before making the case to outside investors.
Both Peebles and Jerome Russell, president, H.J. Russell & Company and Russell New Urban Development, noted that volatility and chaos lead to opportunity and in the current economic and political environment, much opportunity exists. The challenge is for Black developers and entrepreneurs to take advantage of this situation rather than retreating.
DCRE is one of several organizations that provide networking and support for diversity in the CRE industry. Other organizations include the Real Estate Associate Program (REAP) and the Real Estate Executive Council (REEC), both of which are well established and well known for their work in the field of CRE. Adejobi is an alumna of the REAP cohort from 2013. This year, REAP partnered with ULI to provide its biyearly academy virtually. Participants will spend eight weeks with content provided by ULI as well as attending twice-weekly meetings with expert practitioners from the REAP network focused on specific topics in CRE.
In addition to these strong networks of diverse CRE professionals, several companies and organizations have formed programs to support people of color in pursuing a career in real estate. Among these is the Peebles Corporation Diversity Fund to support emerging minority developers and the Equitable Development Initiative through Capital Impact Partners, a Congressionally chartered nonprofit and community development financial institution providing credit and financial services to underserved markets and populations throughout the United States.