In the past two decades the real estate industry has been making solid efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion within its businesses. Racial and gender equality have been elevated to the forefront of executives’ growth strategies. “As an industry, we need to look back to the significant data and other measurement tools to see what has been most effective thus far in increasing diversity and inclusion, and redouble our efforts in those areas,” BRP Cos. Co-Founder & Managing Partner Meredith Marshall told Multi-Housing News.
BRP is mostly involved in affordable and workforce housing projects across New York City. The company is currently behind several mixed-use developments, including major projects in Queens, Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx. As one of the few Black-owned developers in the New York City region, Marshall discusses diversity within the industry and the challenges that accompany it, as well as how emerging developers can get support.
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From a diversity standpoint, how have things evolved since you entered the real estate industry?
Marshall: Since BRP Cos. entered the development market back in 2003, there is certainly a more diverse array of participants within the business from a developer perspective, as well as from an employee perspective at major firms and banking institutions. There are significantly more women and people of color working within the real estate industry today than there was when BRP Cos. was founded, signaling an upward trajectory, but we are not where we need to be in terms of that participation just yet. As of recent months, many firms have been making very meaningful strides forward to increase diversity, equity and inclusion within their businesses, and we hope that momentum only continues across the industry.
Please tell us about the hurdles Black New York City developers face when trying to obtain capital to break ground on new multifamily projects.
Marshall: Most Black-owned developers are often placed within the “emerging” developer class. Due to this nature of not being as fully established as their white counterparts, access to capital can become an issue due to the wider gap in contacts and networks.
Additionally, most Black developers are often focused on developing within underserved communities, and those markets have historically always been more difficult to secure capital for. Recently, there has been an increased number of announcements from the major banking institutions and equity players stating that those underserved markets, as well as minority-owned development firms, are going to be more focused on moving forward.
To help address the longstanding issue of accessing capital moving forward for minority-owned companies, investors should look toward making direct efforts to not only capitalize developers of color, but to invest in those institutions that service developers of color.
How can minority-owned developers shape the future of New York City communities?
Marshall: Being fully engaged from a policy standpoint, as well as with the community boards, public officials, community advocates and the not-for-profit organizations that are all stakeholders in those communities is vitally important. BRP’s success has been partially related to our ability to fully connect with the communities we work within early and often, ensuring that all community entities feel fully engaged and included within our processes.
The goal should always be to provide every community with resources to help them better make decisions as a collective moving forward. While bumps along the way are inevitable, encouraging community engagement while simultaneously exemplifying transparency is the most solid path to shaping the future of New York City’s various communities.
How can emerging developers get support in New York City? Are partnerships with larger development companies the answer?
Marshall: Partnerships and joint ventures with other companies of a like or larger size than your practice is certainly recommended, as a larger cohort can provide complimentary skills to development projects. With that in mind, it is also very important for firms to work their way up and grow gradually, developing the full set of skills it takes to bring a project from its inception to its completion. Starting with smaller projects where 100 percent of the processes are being handled by your firm is greatly beneficial to a firm’s growth.
Some minority-led firms say that more established developers enlist firms like theirs as “marketing representatives” and give them a negligible slice of the profits. Would you say this practice is commonplace?
Marshall: Yes, but less so than in prior years. Meaningful partnerships do exist, and we must remain mindful of the roles that different groups want to play within a joint venture as it can be a two-way street. BRP chooses to be a meaningful partner, and many minority-led firms are doing substantial amounts of work, representing meaningful contributions to the deals they enter into.
Do you think things are headed in the right direction when it comes to making the real estate industry more diverse and inclusive?
Marshall: Absolutely. Any movement is and has been meaningful, but we are starting from a low baseline and still have a long way to go. As an industry, we need to look back to the significant data and other measurement tools to see what has been most effective thus far in increasing diversity and inclusion, and redouble our efforts in those areas.