Real estate development showing homes along street

Building equity from the ground up

Matt Paschall and Don Bernards

Our real estate team is helping create opportunity with underrepresented developer services. Program Lead Matt Paschall (pictured left) and Partner Don Bernards (pictured right) are bringing the “S” in environmental, social and governance (ESG) to life through a passion for equity and opportunity expressed through their budding Underrepresented Developer Services offering. These services help developers who have historically experienced barriers to entry in real estate, including Black, indigenous and people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals and women.

Engaging community leaders

Engaging Community Leaders

In April, Matt and Don’s team engaged community leaders, investors and real estate developers at the 2022 DevelUP: affordable housing workshop in Milwaukee. The event brought together professionals from across the U.S. for an opportunity to network and tap into deep industry knowledge from experienced housing industry professionals — all with the goal of building equity in the community development industry.

To keep the momentum going, the team held a virtual DevelUP Think Tank in August. In this Shark Tank-style event, underrepresented developers presented their development ideas to a panel of real estate titans, who then provided financial advice and development insights.

Project pitches included affordable housing and commercial projects in places like Minneapolis, Chicago, Baltimore and Louisville.

“Through these events, we hope to establish ourselves as the leaders in partnering with developers to create opportunities at every level,” said Matt. “From project managers to local construction firms to homeowners and renters, every project will offer a chance for people of color and other underrepresented groups to get involved in building wealth and building communities.”

From conversation to action

From conversation to action

The genesis of the Underrepresented Developer Services program was in 2020 when Matt facilitated productive conversations around racial equity, bias, the racial wealth gap and the role of both federal and state governments in creating and perpetuating residential segregation. These conversations challenged old notions and, even more importantly, normalized having these discussions in the workplace.

As a result, Matt became convinced Baker Tilly’s real estate team could do more to address the inequities in the commercial real estate industry. One way was to formalize a set of services addressing the barriers to entry many underrepresented developers face, such as access to capital, relationships in the industry, and education and knowledge of the low-income housing tax credit program. Don was excited to support bringing these ideas to life, with the focus on creating equity at every level.

Eyes to the future

Walking the walk

The team aims to become the preferred consultant and advisor for underrepresented developers across the country. “These services are differentiating our firm, and because the team is at the forefront of this space, we are seeing many opportunities come our way,” said Matt.

Milwaukee is one hotspot of activity. Since the 1960s, the city has gone from ranking the highest to the lowest nationwide when it comes to Black home ownership. A newly announced $30 million development fund in Milwaukee will focus on reinvigorating home ownership for Black residents, with Baker Tilly in the advisory role. Projects will infuse opportunity by hiring Black-owned firms to design and build the homes. Another example comes from the Department of Civil Rights in Madison, Wisconsin, which is looking to Baker Tilly to help use federal grant dollars to support small-business owners.

Walking the walk

Matt and Don are passionate about building a team that reflects the demographics of their clients and the communities they serve. In addition to hiring more team members of color into their group, they have engaged interns through Open Access, a program designed to grow the numbers of people of color in leadership positions within the community development industry. An intern on their team participated in this program and worked for Baker Tilly part time while also interning at the New York Housing Agency, giving them experience from multiple industry perspectives.

They have also hired interns through Chicago’s Section 3 program that connects residents of public housing in the city with internships, and the team is pursuing several other similar programs for the future. Through this philosophy, they have created a model for the social component of how to “do” ESG. The team is looking forward to DevelUP 2023, with annual DevelUP events to follow. “It is exciting to be part of the energy in this space, and inspiring to work with community leaders across the country,” said Don. “With our talented, growing team, we are making a difference and promoting equity through this important work.”