EagleBank Changemakers: Dantes Partners Buwa Binitie On The Biggest Challenges Facing CRE
"EagleBank is proud to present the DMV Changemakers Series, sharing the experience, work and perspectives of innovative real estate business leaders across the Washington, D.C., market. At EagleBank, we have a singular purpose: to be community builders. Our CRE financing continues to make a positive impact in communities throughout the mid-Atlantic. Our partners are setting the standard for the CRE industry by delivering projects that align with their communities’ needs.” — Susan Riel, president and CEO, EagleBank
Dantes Partners Managing Principal Buwa Binitie has over 15 years of experience acquiring, developing, financing and managing community real estate development transactions. He and his team have secured more than $848M in commercial real estate financing, most of which is alternative financing such as tax-exempt bonds and low-income housing tax credits. During his tenure at Dantes, his team has developed more than 2,500 units of affordable and workforce housing.
Bisnow recently spoke with Binitie about his recent accomplishments, big risks he has taken and the biggest challenges commercial real estate is facing right now. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Bisnow: What is your proudest accomplishment of the past 18 months?
Binitie: There are so many that it’s hard to choose just one. First, as a team, we all doubled down to ensure that we would come out of the pandemic stronger than ever. The entire DP team has been phenomenal in driving success despite these seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
We’ve delivered four affordable buildings and started construction on another totaling 552 units and raised significant financing to ensure that we can continue to create and preserve affordable housing. We’ve also leased up entire buildings, including moving 150 seniors into Fortitude at Delta in 30 days. We delivered the first assisted living facility in Ward 8 and were awarded two funding opportunities that will facilitate our ability to develop and acquire 4,200 units representing $1.6B in affordable assets.
Bisnow: Could you highlight a particularly stressful day you had while leading your firm through the pandemic, and how you persevered?
Binitie: Personally, I was worried more about how the pandemic was going to affect my kids, my parents and the seniors in our buildings. For instance, my oldest was starting high school and sadly did not have the opportunity to experience that first year in person. We had to pivot in ways that required us all to dig deep to not only make it through the transition, but to also try and enjoy this time with family that we would never get back.
From a professional standpoint, I honestly can’t say that I had one incredibly stressful day during the pandemic. I tend to thrive, and frankly, look forward to triaging problems whenever they arise. At the start of pandemic, the DP team huddled up together to revisit our business and financial plan — which led to planning for the worst. Our planning paid off; we did better than expected and 2020 became one of our most successful years.
Bisnow: What is the biggest risk you've ever taken?
Binitie: Five years ago, we ventured out to New York City with no idea what the horizon had to offer. I wasn’t even confident that I could successfully compete in what looked like — and still looks like — a very intimidating real estate market. Despite this, we remained steadfast and believed in what we had to offer. That investment of time, effort and determination has led to opening an office with a growing team and setting our sights on developing nearly 3,000-plus units, and we are very excited about our recent partnership with New York City Housing Authority.
Bisnow: How do you and your firm advocate for and advance the interests of underrepresented groups in CRE, whether by gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.?
Binitie: As a Black developer, I believe that it is my responsibility to identify and provide opportunities for other competent, minority-owned firms in the CRE industry. This deliberate effort on our part has led to us spending over $55M with underrepresented groups in the past two years. In our opinion, this is not just life-changing, but also a great opportunity for these firms to grow their own capacity. I am also deeply honored to be working with Capital Impact Partners and their Emerging Developer Initiative to mentor the next generation of Black/Brown entrepreneurs.
Bisnow: If you could change one thing about the CRE industry, what would it be?
Binitie: I would like to see capital allocators and municipalities recognize that inequities exist and to be more deliberate in closing that gap. By the way, [the D.C. Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development] is already doing this. Closing the gap leads to those firms hiring from their community as well as growing the ecosystem for other folks to thrive in the CRE industry.
Bisnow: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing CRE right now?
Binitie: The biggest challenge is still the lack of diversity in management of capital, development and ownership. Most of these challenges can be addressed head-on with capital allocators, including banks, being more deliberate to ensure that they revisit which firms, individuals and projects are receiving funding.
This involves not just looking at your exposure by asset class, but also acknowledging who isn’t receiving this exposure and which communities are feeling the positive or negative impact. Just because one has not visited a particular neighborhood does not mean that there isn’t value to be created there, especially if the numbers point in that direction.
Bisnow: What do you want your legacy to be?
Binitie: I want my legacy to be no different from those whose shoulders I stand on. Leslie Hale, Victor MacFarlane, Quintin Primo, Tammy Sykes, Mike Bush and Bo Menkiti are amazing people who broke barriers. They took unfathomable risks to ensure that they serve as great role models for someone like me, while at the same time help create more Black and Brown millionaires.
This article was produced in collaboration between EagleBank and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.
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