Tell us a little about yourself:
My background includes a BA in philosophy and political science from Mount Holyoke College and a JD from Georgetown University Law Center.
Currently, I serve as the Chief of Staff & General Counsel for the Menkiti Group, a real estate services firm dedicated to transforming lives and communities through real estate. Our aim is specific: focus on developing the whole ecosystem of a livable neighborhood, and we do this by channeling resources into residential neighborhoods anchored by mixed-income housing and walkable main street corridors. In this context I design and lead strategic cross-disciplinary initiatives that advance the development of urban neighborhoods, which includes the development of assets along commercial main streets as well as affordable and market-rate housing.
I am extraordinarily excited about this portfolio because it spans from large mixed-use and affordable housing deals to the repositioning of neighborhood commercial assets – all in service of neighborhood transformation.
What would you consider the biggest challenge in our industry? And what have you done to proactively address the dynamic?
The scarcity of institutional capital in underserved urban areas.
At the Menkiti Group, we work in emerging neighborhoods in-and-around Washington, D.C.; and we often face a scarcity of institutional capital willing to invest in underserved urban areas. To us, it’s both an opportunity and a challenge: a challenge to drive capital into underserved communities; and an opportunity to play a foundational role in the renewal of a community’s real estate assets.
We are investing in and developing affordable housing and commercial assets in underserved neighborhoods, because we see inherent value in these communities. And we are able to successfully enter these markets because of our proximity to the neighborhoods we work in and our relationships with community members. These connections allow us to accurately assess risk and value opportunities unrecognized by traditional developers and financers. So, we’re taking a risk – sometimes without the benefit of institutional partners.
What piece of advice do you wish you had gotten sooner?
If you want to have a transformative impact in a community (or really anywhere), build a strong network of people aligned with a common vision.
People tend to work in silos and advocates often compete with each other for limited resources, but a unified, networked approach is much more effective. When I worked in government, it always struck me that advocates dedicated to the same social issues rarely coordinated with each other. They would have different messages and wouldn’t align their positions on policy or the allocation of resources. The result? Diffused energy and a blunted impact.
In the affordable housing realm, we need a systemic reform to meet the demand for affordable units. Our affordable housing stock is disappearing at a rate much faster than we can subsidize and replace it. The catch-up subsidy game we’re playing now is well-intentioned, but ultimately it’s a losing battle. Market forces require a systems-level response to housing affordability, and this type of reform is only possible when a powerful network of people is tightly aligned around a common objective.
How does your HAND membership help you in your community development efforts?
HAND is one of the best organized and well-positioned networking platforms for professionals in our industry. Participation in HAND provides the Menkiti Group with access to people and institutions that are pathways for growth, new initiatives and collaboration.