Phillip Payton was one of the grandfathers of Black real estate development. Working in Harlem, helped build a working- and middle-class community in segregated New York City in the early 1900s. Payton attributed his first success to a dispute between two white landlords. One of the landlords asked Payton to fill his apartment with “Negroes” as revenge. After successfully filling the apartment, he started his life in development. Fun fact: Payton was born in Westfield, Massachusetts and found success in New York City. It’s a recurring theme in Black Massachusetts history, worth noting.
Real estate is being pushed to make Black history. In Boston specifically, real estate has been called out as an industry that can’t seem to move the needle on diversity.
One of the biggest impetuses to progress has been the “Massport Model.” This subcontractor and consultant selection model deeply integrates diversity into development teams and projects holistically. This model did not happen by chance, but as a result of a group of Black developers leveraging their positions to get it done. The idea was first raised by Linda Dorcena Forry. The architects of this model were L. Duane Jackson, Kenn Turner and then-Massport CEO Tom Glynn, supported by investor and Black Economic Council of Massachusetts founding board member Darryl Settles.
This model has become a standard for other selection committees. This has forced developers to reach out and build joint ventures and other partnerships with women- and minority-owned businesses and pushed for stronger diversity, equity and inclusion development team criteria industry-wide.
The Omni Boston Hotel in Boston’s Seaport District was opened in October 2021. The development team, which included seasoned real estate developer Richard Taylor, made Boston Black history because it was the first project in the Seaport that actualized the Massport Model.
Much-maligned because this neighborhood had next to no Black property owners and only a small number of Black residents, Massport sought to change this situation. Their model encouraged a creative approach to include minority business enterprises throughout the development food chain in order to secure development rights on parcel D2. New Boston Hospitality LLC created majority/minority joint ventures in the developer, design and construction areas of the enterprise.
“This response was a major factor in our team winning the development rights to the parcel. In addition, the project included 39 minority investors that own equity in the project.” Taylor said
Much Work to Be Done
The real estate field is also expanding with Black women finding leadership roles.
Lisa Guscott is leading her family’s legacy as the president and CEO of Long Bay Commercial Properties. Beverley Johnson, who was appointed as the first female chair and president of the Massachusetts Minority Contractors Association (MMCA) is another example. Beverley is a long-time real estate veteran, and this appointment wasn’t her first time making history. She made her mark earlier in the city of Boston as the first female department head in the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Johnson works to deepen connections with contractors and developers through advocacy, education and technical assistance. Her leadership generates work opportunities for MMCA members and helps developers reach their diversity goals.
There is so much that needs to happen in order to close the access and wealth gaps in real estate development that Boston could make Black history daily. The people highlighted in this piece represent just a small sample of the talent and leadership we have in Boston. With more opportunity we could see a generation of Boston development that has the benefits of a diverse industry, including culturally relevant developments, highlighting more inviting retail and public spaces. Selection criteria are forcing developers to find diverse partners at all levels. Those opportunities are being leveraged to create more equity in development.
Richard Taylor sums it up this way: “I am proud that my firm The Taylor Smith Group partnered with The David Companies as Co/Developers of this hotel and that our firm contributed significantly to the design of the diversity strategy. History is being repeated as several other Massport projects have followed our design and in some cases strengthen the diversity components.”
Let’s mark Black History Month by honoring those who have helped shape it, and by also thinking about how we can support those making history today!
Malia Lazu is a lecturer in the Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management, CEO of The Lazu Group and former Eastern Massachusetts regional president and chief experience and culture officer at Berkshire Bank.