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EagleBank Changemakers: Menkiti Group CEO On Addressing Social Inequalities And Racial Equity In 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

Menkiti Group CEO Bo Menkiti

Bo Menkiti is the founder and CEO of D.C.- based real estate firm The Menkiti Group, a company dedicated to "strengthening neighborhoods through the strategic development, management, and disposition of real estate in urban markets." Menkiti also serves as CEO and is the founding partner of Keller Williams Capital Properties, and recently founded Mission Mortgage, a double bottom line regional mortgage lender.

Bisnow spoke with Menkiti to learn how his company is working to champion minorities in CRE, how he and his team navigated the pandemic, and how they are addressing issues of equity, inclusion and urban redevelopment.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for style and clarity.

Bisnow: What's been your proudest accomplishment since the start of the pandemic?

Menkiti: One accomplishment our team has made since the start of the pandemic that I am extremely proud of is the major milestones we have achieved at the catalytic MLK Gateway project in historic Anacostia, namely the completion of phase 1 and groundbreaking of phase 2. We believe MLK Gateway is an innovative example of community-led participative development and demonstrates how the power of collaboration between the public and private sectors can truly drive neighborhood impact. 

We have been actively engaged with the historic Anacostia community since 2015, working together with the Bowser administration, DMPED and local leaders, residents and business owners to execute on a collaborative vision for equitable and sustainable economic development in Ward 8 and successfully delivered the first phase in the middle of the pandemic. Our team celebrated these significant milestones in November 2021, and we are proud to bring to life the community’s vision for the historic MLK Gateway alongside partners who share a similar commitment to driving neighborhood impact for Ward 8. We look forward to continuing to work with the community to show the power and strength of D.C. residents and small businesses east of the river.

Bisnow: Tell me about the most stressful day you had while leading your firm through the pandemic. How did you get through? 

Menkiti: The most stressful day I had in relation to the pandemic was March 22, 2020, when I realized that the pandemic could in fact have a major impact worldwide. My thoughts immediately went to the 1,000 real estate agents in our brokerage whose livelihoods depended on their ability to assist homebuyers and sellers in their transactions, our 250-plus tenants, many of them are small businesses, and our extensive development projects in D.C. and Worcester, Massachusetts, where construction was active with hundreds of construction professionals on-site every day.

Once we realized the world was changing rapidly and the future was uncertain, our team jumped into action and launched a #StrongerTogether campaign. This campaign was designed to bring our team together virtually to ensure our projects continued, our agents could stay productive and relevant in the current market, our tenants could apply for the aid they needed, and our team would thrive together. Shifting suddenly to a remote method of working was a challenge for our business, as it was for so many across the globe. I am proud of how our team came together and quickly realized we could successfully pivot and creatively manage new methods of collaboration, communication and service delivery by incorporating new technologies and fully embracing the new normal.

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.? 

Menkiti: Advocating for and advancing the interest of underrepresented groups is at the very heart of our mission and vision. At The Menkiti Group, we are intentional about having an extremely diverse staff and creating an inclusive environment and actively attracting diverse talent. Additionally, we are focused on creating opportunities for minority subcontractors and vendors in our projects as well as for small businesses in our local communities. We have also made it a point to partner with other women- and minority-owned businesses on large-scale development projects and continue our focus on empowering those in our communities to do the same.

Bisnow: If you could change one thing about the CRE industry, what would it be?

Menkiti: Events that have happened in recent years have been shining a much-needed light on the work we must do as a country in addressing social inequalities and racial equity in addition to highlighting how international crises like the pandemic affect different communities in different ways. The CRE industry has a significant underrepresentation of minority-owned companies, and we are facing an equity gap in CRE where only 1.5% of real estate assets under management in the U.S. are controlled by minority-owned firms.

To make an impact and lead the charge as an early adopter of change in the industry, we have expanded our capital and investments team over the past year and set strategic plans in motion. Our team has been focused on lifting as we climb and bridging the gap for scale-ready minority developers who are poised to reach their full potential but need access to capital and the platform to do so.

Bisnow: Where do you see the biggest opportunity for investment in the CRE world? 

Menkiti: For us, the biggest opportunity for investment in the CRE world is through tapping diverse perspectives that have the ability to unlock real estate asset value in urban neighborhoods. The industry has historically had a limited view of possibilities when it comes to CRE professionals and assets in urban neighborhoods. The lack of diversity in real estate development and investment in neighborhoods on the other side of perception creates a gap in the market as institutional investors often overlook investment opportunities with scale-ready Black and Brown developers and have difficulty identifying, accessing, and unlocking key opportunities in high growth urban areas. This potential in this overlooked segment is powerful and if our industry can expand itself to incorporate new talent and innovative capital flows, the impact has the potential to change the industry.

We believe we have a critical role to play as an intermediary that can bridge the gap between capital that’s looking for impactful returns and the next generation of real estate talent in the industry. Issues of equity, inclusion and urban redevelopment are critical, and we have the opportunity to play vital roles in the resiliency of our communities by creating opportunities and a platform for diverse emerging developers to reach their full potential.