The diversity of the development teams vying for a piece of state-owned land in downtown Boston is something to be celebrated.
As Steve Adams details in his story this week, MassDOT adopted the “Massport model” in baking diversity, equity and inclusion requirements into the criteria for parcel 25 on the edge of Chinatown and the Leather District. Twenty-five percent of the six teams’ scores will be based on how they have incorporated diversity strategies in their proposals.
For some, this means committing to a substantial ownership share for minority-owned firms. For others, this means a more intense engagement with community organizations and neighborhood residents. Still others have stacked their teams with women- and minority-owned consultants, suppliers and subcontractors.
As even prominent construction executives like Greg Janey can tell you, the Boston real estate world has had an undeniable “concrete ceiling” for many minority- and women-owned companies.
Part of this is in the nature of the business – real estate development is such a complex business that everyone involved prizes trusted partners like gold. And once a relationship of trust is established between two firms, it’s hard for a new player to join the party. Start this dynamic in a more overtly racist and sexist age, then repeat it over scores of projects and only a select few developers, construction firms, design firms and suppliers wind up with opportunities to put their names on the map and grow.
That’s where opportunities like parcel 25 come in. They force developers to pair up with women- and minority-owned firms, building new relationships between them and established (mostly white and male) players and giving them big projects they can tout to future clients and financiers.
Repeat this dynamic over enough projects and you create an experienced, diverse ecosystem of real estate, design and construction firms that will spread the massive benefits of each successive real estate cycle more broadly throughout our society.
Boston officials are doing their part as they push to redevelop city-owned parcels in Roxbury, including the giant P3 property, and state officials are also starting to use the Massport model more. Together, they are creating important opportunities that will continue to bear fruit for years to come, and which should be models for other municipalities and agencies.
But they and the Builders of Color Coalition’s new Boston Minority Real Estate Directory are doing something else: Giving lie to the old saw that it’s “too hard to find” diverse firms to partner with. It’s high time for industry – including the banks and other lenders who fund them – to try harder in diversifying their partners.
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