A new incubator program aims to make the real estate development industry more reflective of the city’s diversity. Led by consulting firm Monumental and the University of Toronto Infrastructure Institute, the FutureBUILDS BIPOC Real Estate Development Incubator invites mid-career entrepreneurs for a five-month course that will provide training, connections and on-site learning.
“Real estate development has been an insider’s game,” says Zahra Ebrahim, a principal at Monumental. “Your network is what allows you to thrive in the industry. This program will provide participants with mentors and connections to the professionals they need to get a project built.”
The program builds on a report by Monumental for the think tank Future Skills Centre. It found that “representation of racialized folks in Canadian real estate development … is low overall, especially in leadership.” BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) real estate professionals “described the prevalent culture in the industry as a ‘white boys club.’”
The five-month program, which is free, runs May to September; enrolment is open now. The program will assist participants in planning their first project, which will likely be a building with two to four apartments, with a goal of starting construction within three years.
The intended scale is modest. “We’d be surprised if someone wants to build a 40-storey tower,” says Kofi Hope, the other principal of Monumental. “We expect that people may have a single-family home that they want to convert into three units.”
However, he adds: “That’s where a lot of established development families started out: doing things on the small scale and then working their way up.”
The program was inspired by research by Monumental into the careers of BIPOC people in the local real estate industry. Ms. Ebrahim explains that many of them had the necessary expertise to become developers and builders but lacked a social network and the access to banks and other lenders.
Several such professionals will speak at a public roundtable March 6 at Innis College at the University of Toronto.
The program has support from several financial institutions including Bank of Montreal and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.
One secondary goal, Mr. Hope says, is to address the housing crisis by “adding new developers, bringing new creativity and energy.” Having more small-scale players, he argues, is a critical ingredient in creating more of the small-scale apartments that planners call “missing middle.” (The City of Toronto has signalled that it will begin making it easier to get such projects approved and built.)
That would mean that the financial returns from development would flow to a wider group of people. Earlier generations of real estate developers in the Toronto region – including many European immigrants – “got a chance to build generational wealth, not just for their families but for their whole communities,” Ms. Ebrahim says.
The program aspires to bring that same opportunity to BIPOC people, she adds, and to bring their resources to address the larger issue. “We do need new ideas. This is appropriate to the moment we’re in as a city,” she adds. “Because we’re in a crisis. It can only help to have more people in the ring trying to wrestle this to the ground.”