A Letter From Bisnow’s Editor-In-Chief
When George Floyd was killed under the knee of police officers in Minneapolis, it reopened a deeply painful dialogue in America on racial lines.
While Floyd’s death was senseless, the conversation brought on by this tragedy is necessary, and commercial real estate seems to be listening — but the industry needs to also recognize that this conversation runs deeper than hiring more people of color.
When tragedies like this occur, real estate executives send out internal memos and public messages of support and acknowledge they and their companies need to be better.
Real estate news outlets produce stories, cobbling together voices from the industry to remind it of where it stands: CRE is mostly white and mostly male and remains a challenging industry for any minority to thrive in.
These collective actions are inadequate, and they have not resulted in meaningful reform.
This is not the first time real estate has had to reckon with its racial dynamics, and the industry must remember that the criticisms levied against it go back decades and longer.
Still fresh on the minds of many black Americans is the painful history of redlining, which redirected real estate development away from their communities in the 1930s in favor of white neighborhoods. To this day, many black inner-city neighborhoods continue to suffer from the legacy of redlining and are unable to attract the investment necessary to lift up their communities.
In recent years, the promise of the U.S. government’s opportunity zone program to direct long-term investments to low-income urban and rural communities has been criticized as a tax loophole that largely benefits white investors who have steered the money to more affluent areas. Last year, Sen. Tim Scott, a black Republican senator from South Carolina who co-sponsored the bill that created the opportunity zone program, issued a warning to developers and investors targeting opportunity zones.
“I’m positive that if the opportunity zone program isn’t benefiting the communities it’s meant for, I’ll kill the program,” he said at a Bisnow event in Washington, D.C.
Last week, Beatrice Sibblies, the founder of BOS Development, which develops housing in New York City, spoke to Bisnow about being a woman of color in real estate, and what it will actually take to bring about real change in the industry.
"Economic change creates political change. Political change is the tail of the dog," Sibblies said. "Where is the money? Follow the money, and that’s how I structured my career. Change comes from economics."
Real estate has long been a proxy for wealth distribution. So when a group of common-minded people who look the same make critical decisions about where to invest large quantities of capital, it is not difficult to understand why that investment does not always flow into programs and real estate that benefit communities of color.
Real estate is a cornerstone of the American dream, and if you’re the one dreaming about building something and executing a vision, you might reasonably envision making your community better, not someone else’s.
At Bisnow, our newsroom’s long-standing imperative has been to tell our readers how it is — good, bad and ugly — without fear or favor to any sponsor or special interest. We like to believe that practicing journalism in this manner makes you smarter and better informed. We are not afraid to ruffle feathers if we believe we are publishing stories that are fair, driven by facts and consequential to how the real estate industry operates. We are far from perfect in this pursuit.
Though we have a body of reporting that has shined a light on institutional racism, diversity recruitment, wage disparity, race and gender inequality, and more, Bisnow’s newsroom can do more. We can go further to hold the industry accountable for its racial and gender inequality. We can do more to elevate voices from people of color who work in this industry. We can do more to hire reporters and editors who not only look different than the industry’s current makeup, but who more importantly possess a different perspective when it comes to covering real estate.
And we can do more to connect the dots between how community investment, commercial real estate development and racial and social inequalities in the world intersect. Along with the after-effects of the coronavirus and the state of the economy, these are the myriad avenues we will attempt to bring together with our journalism moving forward.
The worldwide multi-trillion-dollar commercial real estate industry touches us all. The industry has deep influence on how and where we work, how we live, how we are entertained, where we eat or work out, how we shop for groceries and clothing — and beyond the impact on society at large, it can decide the health of any local or national economy.
Why should those decisions not be more equitable across race and gender lines? What is the industry doing to diversify its ranks? What companies are getting it right and which are not? Why does the industry that decides how all the modern world lives and works not reflect how the world looks — and why does that matter?
Today, our newsroom is recommitting itself to aggressively pursuing answers to those difficult questions, and many more, in the weeks and months and years ahead — long after the protests die down and most of the nation moves on. Bisnow’s mission is to inform, connect and advance the commercial real estate industry to do more business. That will continue, but moving forward, our newsroom will also be digging even deeper to hold this industry accountable to its collective desire to be a more diverse and equitable industry.
Mark F. Bonner
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