NDC’s CEO and founder, Adrian Washington recently spoke on a panel that was part of the HAND 30th Anniversary Annual Meeting & Housing Expo. The panelists were from a range of stakeholders in the space, from CDFIs (Community Development Financial Institutions) to institutional and corporate investors. Addressing the topic of equity and inclusion in real estate development in the affordable housing sector, Adrian offered the perspective of a minority developer with decades of experience in the space.
A New Face at the Table
Asked about the challenges faced by minority developers, Adrian recalled his early days as a developer. Where non-minority developers might have a critical network of high net-worth friends and family to both invest in a project and make important introductions to other funding sources, Adrian noted that he did not have a legacy or other generational support since he was the first person in his family to take on this work. As he put it, “my friends and family believed in me, and they invested, but the checks were smaller, so we had a different experience scaling our work.”
Speaking more generally, the panelists agreed that investors of both debt and equity need to adjust their criteria when analyzing a new player, particularly a minority developer. When just starting out, the balance sheet of a developer won’t be as robust, so making this a litmus test can exclude the outsider, particularly when minority-owned. Adrian noted that, where debt is a more factual assessment, equity investment has a certain “gut” component, and this is where unstated or unconscious bias can work against the minority developer.
Mentorship is Critical
While there is little doubt about an attractive risk-to-return ratio when it comes to reinvesting in a marginalized community, learning the ropes of being a developer in this space includes an important learning curve. Mentorship from those who have been through multiple development projects and cycles makes a huge difference. Adrian related his own experience of being invited to the table for public/private partnerships, and other important opportunities to observe and learn the ropes of the business: “In the early days, the public investment process gave me a chance to gain critical experience. It also exposed me to projects that I couldn’t undertake at the time, but I could take note and incorporate the lessons learned into the NDC long-term business plan.”
Adrian is a success story that demonstrates that minority-owned developers like NDC can succeed. Another panelist noted that the communities deserve to see themselves reflected in the faces of the developers. “DEI should happen before you even break ground so that the community can have confidence in the development project,” said Adrian. NDC continues to be committed and enthusiastic about revitalizing marginalized and under served communities through strategic development. With Adrian at the helm, NDC is breaking barriers on multiple fronts.
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