The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry, and more. In this edition, we had a conversation with Ronette “Ronnie” Slamin, founder of Embolden Real Estate. Check out our dialogue below to learn about her development firm, what she believes women leaders of color in the real estate industry can do to move the needle in a different direction, and the importance of explaining the multiple levels of housing affordability.
HAND: Can you tell us about Embolden Real Estate and about how you landed in the real estate development industry?
RS: Embolden Real Estate is the company that I founded in 2021, a development firm with consulting services related to project management, entitlements, and community engagement. The name of my company came to me when I was reading a book on education, as I’ve always wanted to work at the intersection of housing and education to improve educational outcomes.
I landed in the industry of real estate by way of an undergrad professor Joseph E. Corcoran at Boston College, who was a successful developer and a pioneer of mixed-income housing. I had returned from a summer service trip to Jamaica and was interested in ways to improve the infrastructure in the remote town I volunteered in. Coincidentally I took his class and realized that real estate development was a great tool to address infrastructure issues such as roads, homes and schools.
HAND: What excites you about working in the real estate development industry?
RS: I am excited about how every day in real estate development is different and how many hats you must wear, from project management, financing, design, construction, property management and sometimes even a social worker. As a person who gets bored easily, I love that it’s always changing and keeps you on your toes. I also love that you can see the result of your hard work just by walking past projects you have completed.
HAND: Keeping in mind the history of racism and its impacts on housing, how can leaders of color or, more specifically, women leaders of color in the real estate industry move the needle in a different direction?
RS: The history of racism in the housing industry is a painful reality with deep-rooted impacts that continue to be felt today. I think as an industry, we can move the needle in the right direction by being intentional about creating diverse work cultures and pushing for affordable housing to be in high opportunities neighborhoods.
As a woman of color, I believe we need to be intentional about creating a welcoming space for women and people of color, and by doing so, we will create a welcoming space for all. Research shows that women usually take on more family and household responsibilities. As an industry, we can make an effort to support women by scheduling events at different times (not always in the evening), offering better benefits, and flex work from home. To support people of color in the industry, I think it first starts by increasing exposure to the field. The real estate field is an unknown industry to many, so I think we will start seeing more diversity by creating that exposure and awareness of the opportunities.
HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability and creating more equitable communities in our region? If so, what do you think that is? What do you think is the most significant obstacle?
RS: I don’t think there’s a secret sauce, but I would say I think it requires creativity and collaboration. Housing affordability is a huge issue that will not be fixed overnight and requires different tools based on the deal. I think if we can work together we will be able to have a huge impact. I would consider the largest obstacle to be marketing and optics. I think the word affordable housing has just become such a loaded term, and with many definitions, we often do not realize that we may not be talking about the same thing. When you mention the word affordable housing, you can sometimes raise red flags where, even if many in the community would qualify for that affordable housing. So, I think marketing needs to explain the affordability levels, the quality, and the great positive outcomes that can come from affordable housing.
HAND: What is your “why”? What keeps you motivated to continue your work in this space?
RS: I stay motivated to work in affordable housing because of its impact on residents and communities. Knowing that you’re providing families a home, a place to create memories, a place to feel safe, and a place to grow is very rewarding and motivating.
HAND: What might you be doing if you weren’t working in this industry?
RS: I would probably be in the sports industry if I were not in real estate. I was working towards being a sports broadcaster or agent before taking that real estate development class in college.