How This Nonprofit Is Changing The Way Minorities ‘Get In’ Commercial Real Estate

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Written by Maryann Reid
commercial real estate
REAP NYC 2017 Class CARLOS ESCOBAR

According to statistics, there are less than 1% of minorities in commercial real estate management roles. REAP (Real Estate Associate Program), a nonprofit based in New York City, wants to change that.

Launched in 1997 in Washington, D.C., by then president of real estate at Giant Foods, Mike Bush, REAP connects minority talent to a thriving, multibillion-dollar commercial real estate sector by answering one simple question: “How do I get in?” Other than D.C., and New York City, REAP has chapters in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas and Kansas City. The REAP program includes a classroom portion consisting of a 10-week academy where students receive foundational knowledge on a range of commercial real estate topics from financial analysis to market selection with a mix of exclusive networking receptions with top industry leaders.

Making commercial real estate more multicultural

REAP Executive Director Ken McIntyre and Program Director Osayamen Bartholomew shared more about what they wish to accomplish.

Maryann Reid: What problem is REAP solving with its program?

Ken McIntyre: The problem REAP is seeking to ‘solve’ is the disparity between the percentages of minorities participating in the CRE industry vs. their respective percentages in the population.  REAP supplements the academy with events in each of our local markets which promote networking, continued education in CRE topics, mentorship and professional development.  With over 1,100 graduates of REAP academies over the past 20 years, REAP is seeking to create multicultural communities of CRE professionals across the country.

Reid: Can you share a recent success story?

McIntyre: REAP graduates hold many senior positions including: head of real estate in the U.S. for IKEA, head of studio real estate for Netflix, regional managers of real estate for Nike, Shake Shack, Target, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Walmart.

Specifically, a 2018 graduate of the New York academy joined Nuveen (formerly TIAA Real Estate) as an Asset Management Investment Analyst in Washington, DC.

Osayamen Bartholomew: We recently attended a meeting at a sponsor’s office and upon walking into the room, we were surprised to be greeted by three of their newest employees – all REAP graduates. It was a testament to the success of our program, and the ability to source talented individuals for our sponsors.

Reid: What new initiatives or partnerships are you creating to spread the word about REAP?

McIntyre: We presently are in discussions with several organizations to create strategic alliances which will enable REAP to maintain a consistent presence in multiple markets.  One such alliance is with JP Morgan Chase, who has supported REAP in multiple markets with venues for events, instructors for our academies and has hired several REAP graduates either directly or indirectly.  Also, over the past 3 years over 10 JPMC employees have participated and graduated from REAP academies.  Another alliance underway is with WeWork who anticipates having a need for hundreds of real estate professionals as they grow over the next few years.  WeWork views supporting REAP as a way to access talent to meet their growth plans. 

Reid: What are the goals of having more minorities in commercial real estate?

McIntyre: There are multiple goals: 1. In order for real estate companies to improve their ability to relate to the increasingly diverse population of the U.S., it is important and a best practice to have representatives of the diverse populations providing input to decisions and connecting the firm to its constituents.  2.  Giving people of color knowledge about commercial real estate provides them with the tools to make better decisions about real estate uses in their communities, either as participants in land use discussions, as entrepreneurs and as employees of real estate companies.  3.  Commercial real estate has been a tremendous wealth generator and introducing more people of color to the opportunities of careers in CRE can be a step towards closing the wealth gaps that exist.

Reid: What is a memorable moment you can recall from a REAP student?

Bartholomew: In one of our recent classes, we had one candidate who applied for the New York City academy, but currently lived in California. He was so determined to participate in the program that upon acceptance, he rented an Airbnb for 10 weeks, just so he could attend all of his courses. In that same class, we had another student commute from Philadelphia two days a week, and another commute from Washington, DC. It showed the value of REAP in attracting dedicated professionals, and also why it’s the most successful diversity initiative in the commercial real estate industry.

Reid: What is a deal breaker for anyone considering REAP?

McIntyre: Although REAP’s mission is focused on diversity, the ‘secret sauce’ to REAP’s existence is talent.  If REAP were not successful in sourcing talented individuals seeking to enter the CRE industry, REAP’s value would be greatly diminished.  Candidates without a track record of success and/or without significant enthusiasm for CRE need not apply.

Reid: What’s next for REAP?

McIntyre: REAP’s strategic plan includes: more local programming; offering modified academies that provide greater depth in specific disciplines like development or property management; a structured mentorship program; and more networking across markets.  Additionally, REAP seeks to develop a pipeline of diverse talent by having outreach to colleges and universities to introduce undergraduates to the possibilities of careers in CRE earlier in their college experience. 

Reid: Are more cities in the works? 

McIntyre: Specifically, we are in discussions with Starbucks and JLL to bring REAP to Seattle and we have been offered a strategic partnership with Jefferson University to bring REAP to Philadelphia.  Beyond those two, we have seven other markets that we’ve targeted for expansion over the next 5 years.

Reid: What other efforts is REAP doing to connect with minority professionals? 

Bartholomew: Our core focus is targeting the community of minority professionals, which includes both men and women, and through our relationships with many organizations including alumni associations of graduate programs, Council of Urban Real Estate (CURE), Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), and several minority real estate associations, we have been able to successfully recruit a diverse group of candidates.

Reid: Anything else you’d like to say?

McIntyre: There is much talk about diversity & inclusion in the CRE industry and in many other industries.  Despite this talk the pace of change is very slow.  REAP has the capability to significantly increase the pool of talent available to the CRE industry, train them for productive careers, and mentor and support them throughout their careers.  Executing these capabilities on increasing numbers will result in meaningful increases in diverse talent in the CRE industry.

This article originally appeared in Forbes.

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