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The Innovators: REĀL Founder Ada Arevalo

In this series, Bisnow highlights people and companies pushing the commercial real estate industry forward in myriad ways. Click here to read Q&As with all the innovators Bisnow has interviewed so far.

Los Angeles County is 48.6% Hispanic or Latinx, the U.S. census says, and statewide, nearly 40% of residents are Latinx, but often throughout her career in commercial real estate in Southern California, Ada Arevalo found herself to be the only Latina in the room.

Arevalo’s background is at the intersection of real estate and accounting, which she said gave her a strong foundation for a career in real estate investing and finance. She was part of the founding team at Irvine-based Avanath Capital. Arevalo said she came on to lead its finance platform and departed as the vice president of fund management. Her executive career includes experience raising capital, fund management, and overseeing sustainability and social impact programs. Arevalo launched her own private equity real estate investment firm, iimpact capital, last year.

Though she knew she was a rarity in the industry, “I never pinpointed there was not a commercial real estate organization focused on Latinos and Latinas,” Arevalo said. “2020 really gave me the opportunity to step back and realize that was the case.”

Like many professionals, Arevalo no longer had to travel for work during the coronavirus pandemic. That opened up time to connect and brainstorm with other Latinx colleagues whose schedules also had new vacancies. The result of those discussions — about an organization that could give back to the community and support Latinx professionals in CRE now and in the future — is what set the stage for REĀL, the Real Estate Association of Latinx Professionals.

Ada Arevalo, the founder of REĀL

The organization has had a soft launch regionally in Southern California but is laying the groundwork now for a national launch this summer. Arevalo said she envisions regional chapters, each run by and advocating for the diverse groups that all fall under the Latinx umbrella and attuned to the nuances of the cities and real estate of their markets.

For creating the industry group she said she wished she had to help her through her career, Ada Arevalo is a Bisnow Innovator.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Bisnow: Why do we need a group for Latinx that's focused solely on people in the CRE industry as opposed to real estate broadly?

Arevalo: Commercial real estate is still not reflective of the diversity within our country. It’s still very much made up of older males, and the higher up the corporate ladder you go, the less diverse it is and the less representation we have. Having seen and experienced that and having often been the only female or the only female of color at the table made me want to see that change. How am I going to change it? I think REĀL is an answer to that.

Bisnow: There are so many people in this city, state and country who identify as Latino, Latina or Latinx. Why has it taken until now for a Latinx organization for people in CRE to exist?

Arevalo: I honestly think it’s because there are so few of us in the industry. We’re just not very represented at all in commercial real estate. Nationally, across public and private pension funds, there are only five Latino chief investment officers. Across hundreds of pension funds!

REĀL started with just a handful of us. Now, there are Latino executives coming out of the woodwork. And that’s the beauty of an organization like this, connecting all those Latino executives. It’s become magnetic. I’m constantly getting pinged from someone saying, “I’m the only Latino executive in my organization.” And now we can join together, help pave a path and create something that we wish we would have in our journey through commercial real estate.

Bisnow: What does that look like? 

Arevalo: I would summarize it in three words: visibility, advancement and equity. In terms of visibility, the goal is to show that Latinx people are present in commercial real estate, we’re a united front and there’s so much that we have to bring to the table. Next, advancement: We want to help our members from where they are today to where they want to be, the next level. Equity refers to bringing more overall financial equity, more capital, into Latino-owned and -managed investment firms.

Bisnow: How else will REĀL go about supporting Latinx CRE professionals? 

Arevalo: We also plan to roll out a mentorship program and develop partnerships with existing organizations that are focused on other diverse groups. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel — there are other organizations that have years of experience and we can learn from what they do. We’re also really working hard to find avenues to fund research about diversity in the industry. I think having more numbers would really prompt action.

Bisnow: Going back to what you said about equity, why is it important for Latinx-owned and -managed investments firms to have more capital to work with?

Arevalo: Well, it all kind of comes full circle. When these firms have more equity, they tend to invest more in communities that they understand — Latinx communities and other diverse communities. They improve communities when they invest in them. These investments create a fountain of employment for these communities. At the end of the day, giving these firms more equity is a wealth generator. In a capitalist America, the creation of wealth is what ultimately gives the Latinx community the power to change policy, and that can make changes on a generational scale. 

Those first two elements of REĀL, visibility and advancement, are great and necessary, but getting more equity in the hands of Latinx-owned and -managed investment firms not only helps raise visibility and boost advancement but also creates wealth for Latinx communities. 

Bisnow: How will you know if it's working? How will you know if things are changing?

Arevalo: I wish I could tell you that we would have tangible changes that we can see right away. But change takes time. Something we can do and will do, though, is measure how much of an impact we're creating just by creating a platform to bring the community together. Tracking how many Latinx people are doing business together after meeting through REĀL, how many new connections are being made, how those connections translate into dollars. That will be something that we can immediately see.