ULI Washington DEI Year in Review
I hope you are all staying healthy and safe during this challenging time. I want to take this opportunity to share some of the steps we’ve..
My role in the real estate industry is data centric – I am constantly reading, calculating, distilling, and attempting to draw meaning from snippets of information which are often incomplete in an ecosystem built on handshakes and relationships. When the pandemic hit almost a year ago my dominant analytical side went into overdrive and has not slowed down much since. As we drifted uncontrollably toward five standard deviations from the mean I tumbled down the data rabbit hole seeking the answers to all the burning questions being asked while we collectively processed our emerging situation.
I believe the horror of any great crisis should be confronted with raw and honest vulnerability and a sincere desire to learn from the experience. I approached my pandemic answer quest primarily with my analytical persona, but I have experienced a few broader personal epiphanies throughout my search. Here are a few stories the data told me:
I’ll start with disparity. My educational background is in economics and my career in real estate has been focused on tallying the averages and reporting the aggregate figures. I can tell you that the pandemic has made averages and aggregates utterly useless and worse, often a distraction from a more complicated and honest reality.
According to Census survey data, non-White households have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic with more than half of Black and Hispanic households experiencing employment income loss since the beginning of the pandemic, a rate far greater than White households. Consequently, Black households are three times more likely than White households to be behind on rent or mortgage payments (U.S. Census Bureau). As of January 2021, the unemployment rate for those with a high-school diploma was 7.1% compared to 4.0% for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher and women had reversed decades of gains in labor force participation as they stayed home to care for family at greater rates than men (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Morning Consult).
To be clear, disparity is not a pandemic problem. As a seasoned consumer of demographic data, I have been aware of broad swaths of unfairness in real estate for non-white and low-income households for some time. What I didn’t realize before the pandemic, but I now know is that not everyone recognizes this quantified and very real divide that exists, nor do we take responsibility for our personal role in it.
Innovation is alive and well. What do we do when drastic change is forced upon us? Ok, first we freak out…but then we innovate! COVID-19 has inadvertently produced one of the widest reaching and purest social experiments in recent history and our general reaction as a society to this wild card has been to double down and stay in the game. My company’s corporate office has been closed for almost a year, but we are stronger than ever and have implemented years of productive change in mere months by leaning into technology and adopting new ways of doing business. I can say I have witnessed genuine and inspiring leadership during this past year as we took multifamily development and property management virtual with great success.
Outside of real estate the purest example of a burst of innovation I can see is the development, testing and distribution of vaccines to combat the pandemic in record time. The data on the effectiveness of the five vaccines that have public trial results is nothing short of stunning. Of the approximately 75,000 people who received a vaccine in a trial not a single person has died and only a few have been hospitalized (Leonhardt, New York Times). These results make the COVID-19 vaccines some of the most effective in history.
There is more than enough data to make me optimistic about the future. Survey data show that the pandemic has strengthened relationships with about a quarter of respondents saying their relationship with their children and romantic partners had gotten better (Morning Consult). Another one of my favorite stats is the data on applications for new businesses (Weekly Business Formation Statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau). These data show a spike in new business formation beginning in June last year with applications up more than 50% year-over-year at the end of January. Related to new business formation, a Morning Consult/Moody’s Analytics survey showed that Black and Hispanic respondents and young respondents were the most energized entrepreneurs despite being hit the hardest by the pandemic.
I plan to spend the upcoming pandemiversary (for me, that will be March 12th) with my freshly vaccinated parents that I have not been able to hug in sixteen months and I am personally grateful for the humbling and deeply eye-opening experience that has been COVID-19.
Vice President – Research & Data Strategy, Kettler
Chair, Membership Committee
Co-Chair, Engaging and Connecting Diverse Talent Sub Committee
In ULI Washington’s new Leadership Insights column, ULI Washington will regularly feature member leader’s thoughts and insights as we adjust personally and professional to a “new normal.”