Culture Scan

At the intersection of real estate, media, and pop culture.

What’s a Social-Purpose REIT?

A little over a year ago, at the 2016 REALTORS® Conference & Expo, I had the pleasure of hearing Bill Endsley, then secretary general of FIABCI-USA, talk about his organization’s latest publication, The City We Need Is Affordable. FIABCI, the International Real Estate Federation, is an organization of real estate professionals from all over the world that holds special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. And after learning about how municipalities, developers, and real estate professionals are working to fill the gaping need for workforce housing, I was excited to dig in to volume two, which landed in my inbox just before the holidays this year.

Book Cover The City We Need Is Affordable, Vol. 2

Just like the first volume, The City We Need Is Affordable, Vol. 2 looks at some of real estate’s more innovative responses to the challenge of affordable housing all around the world. From how Paris is using modular homes to provide emergency housing to the way Brazil leveraged an affordable housing program to stabilize their economy, there are many examples of the impact of providing housing solutions to tackle the needs of communities across the globe.

One example that I found particularly interesting is right here in the United States. The Housing Partnership Equity Trust is a social purpose real estate investment trust (REIT) that leverages cheap financing and local assistance such as tax abatements to protect and improve affordable housing while also providing a healthy profit to investors. Their section in The City We Need Is Affordable, Vol. 2 examines the rings of housing around the Washington, D.C. market, where many middle-class residents are at risk of being displaced thanks to rising costs and rapid development. The REIT invests in apartment complexes in need of capital and management services, and ensures they remain affordable for current residents.

What I love about this now two-part series dates back to something Endsley said back in 2016 at NAR’s conference: “It’s not charity… The more vibrant our city is, the more money we make.” Too often the development community and those looking to preserve and expand workforce housing are seen as being worlds apart. But the reality is, more often than not they’re only separated by false narratives about the high cost and low return on affordable homes or equally erroneous assumptions that the real estate community is only in the business to line their own pockets. Examples like those found in series of The City We Need Is Affordable can help to break down those barriers, to the benefit of all.


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