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'You Have To Be An Optimist': Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker Talks To Multifamily Leaders About 2022

Willy Walker, Daryl Carter, Doug Biddy, David Schwartz and Sue Ansel

Multifamily housing is one of, if not the, most discussed and debated asset classes in the commercial real estate world today. From rising rents to the country’s staggering need for more affordable housing, multifamily is under the spotlight, and these properties are complex to develop, manage and successfully roll out. 

At the center of these discussions is the National Multifamily Housing Council, an organization where some of the most prominent leaders in multifamily housing come together to offer their insight, advocate for change and create plans to build a better future for multifamily developers, managers and residents. 

Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker went to the NMHC conference in January to moderate a discussion among Daryl Carter, founder, chairman and CEO of Avanath Capital Management; David Schwartz, CEO, chairman and co-founder of Waterton; Sue Ansel, president and CEO of Gables Residential; and Doug Bibby, president of NMHC.

Bibby had announced plans to retire in January 2021 but delayed those plans to “help members recover from pandemic-related impacts and to continue to advocate for legislation crucial to the industry and the expansion of diversity, equity and inclusion,” according to Multi-Housing News. He now plans to step down in January 2023. 

Walker and this group of multifamily leaders discussed the influence of NMHC, what the industry is doing to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, and what it will take to provide the U.S. with the affordable housing it needs. 

Walker pointed out that with millions of Americans living in multifamily housing and NMHC’s political action committee, which raises significant money for political donations, the group has the potential to have a significant impact on the country. 

“We've been extremely balanced,” Bibby said. “When we go up on the Hill we're giving roughly 50-50 to Democrats and Republicans and they know we're being fair.” 

When it comes to the media, Bibby said the organization has always strived to “give them the facts” and not sugarcoat things. He said this has earned NMHC respect. 

Walker moved on to discussing DEI, how far the group believes the industry has come and what more needs to be done. 

Carter said the industry still has a long way to go, but it has made progress. He encouraged people to see that talent and opportunity come in many shapes and forms, and highlighted the Black and Latino board members of NMHC, but said there is more work to be done. Namely, he called for more capital to flow toward minority-owned businesses, since access to capital is the main thing that creates opportunities. 

“We have a long way to go, but still we're moving there,” he said. “I'm an optimist. You have to be an optimist in this business.” 

Gables website counts an “impressive number” of women and people of color among its staff, Walker said. He asked Ansel if there were any specific initiatives that went into building such a diverse staff. 

“The leaders of our organization always believed in meritocracy,” Ansel said. “We were successful in finding diverse associates throughout the organization who were creative and were thoughtful and smart and they brought the goods, so they were promoted.” 

Walker went on to discuss CRE expert Peter Linneman, who recently said that companies should be buying all the assets they can because cap rates are going down from here. Schwartz said that while Waterton would like to buy as many assets as possible, it’s just incredibly competitive due to the high rent growths happening right now, which he called a “truly once-in-a-lifetime period.” 

“We're just so under-built as an industry that we're way behind,” he said. “Doug has been talking about this for well over a decade. We're just not building enough housing and that's what resulted in this rent inflation.” 

Bibby said that there need to be new ways, structurally, financially and otherwise, to build more affordable housing for Americans. He called on that to be his successor's overarching concern. 

“You can't wave a magic wand through federal legislation to do anything about this,” he said. “You can reform HUD’s Section 8 program and then you can double or triple the number of vouchers, and that will make a difference. But at the end of the day, it’s exclusionary zoning and NIMBY-ism that run rampant and restrict our ability to produce affordable housing. That’s going to be the big challenge moving forward.” 

On March 23, Walker will host Tope Lawani, co-founder of Helios. Register here

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Walker & Dunlop. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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