Here are two approaches to using real estate for social impact (Generocity, 3/7/2016)

Source: Generocity
Date: March 7, 2016
Byline: Tony Abraham

When Ken Weinstein‘s mother-in-law asks him what he does, he tells her he takes junk and makes something better with it.

The Philly Office Retail president is what you might call a social impact real estate developer. Weinstein watches more than just the bottom line — not typically the strategy adopted by most for-profit developers.

“It’s not normal for for-profit developers to think this way,” he said. “If you get into a neighborhood, you’re not looking for the quick hit to buy, rehab and flip something, then move onto the next community and not care about what the impact is going to be.”

Weinstein said his company takes gentrification into careful consideration before they start working in a neighborhood and assess whether their work would promote it or stave it off. That boils down to addressing community needs when developing commercial properties. If the community needs a space to commune and socialize, Weinstein said he’d rather wait for a business like a cafe than accept the first hair salon that wants to hand him a check.

That’s what Philly Office Retail is teaching folks in their Jumpstart Germantown program. The initiative offers mentoring opportunities for aspiring impact developers, hosts a conference four times a year and, with a $2 million line of credit, finances deals for people who can’t get a loan from a bank.

High risk can yield high reward, and that’s the message Weinstein wants to spread to other developers.
Like most for-profit social impact work, this kind of development is high-risk. But high risk can yield high reward, and that’s the message Weinstein wants to spread to other developers. American Communities Trust CEO Gregory Heller feels the same — but his consulting organization approaches the issue from a nonprofit perspective.

Both Weinstein and Heller spoke at a recent Tri-State Sustainability Symposium panel.

“I feel like real estate and community development are sometimes used interchangeably,” Heller said. That’s not accurate, he said. “Real estate is one piece of the community development puzzle. Community development is much more holistic.”

In Philadelphia, ACT has provided strategic planning and capacity building services for Kensington Renewal and West Philly procurement initiative Targeted Spend, Local Impact.

Investing in capacity building and helping nonprofits develop finance skillsets are two of the most durable approaches to encouraging social impact real estate, he said.

“The most important thing we can do to reconnect communities with their buildings and institutions and what takes place in their communities is to build capacity and infrastructure so local stakeholders can build their own future,” he said.