Justin Garrett Moore leads a double life that all comes together in one amazing package. In his day job he is executive director of the New York City Public Design Commission. There he helps to guard quality and excellence in public space design – from large-scale urban systems, policies, and projects to grassroots and community-focused planning, design, and arts initiatives. In this role he reviews 800 – 1,000 place-making projects every year, from streetscapes, to mammoth development projects.
Justin has also co-founded Urban Patch with his parents in Indianapolis, where he grew up. Urban Patch is a social enterprise focused on community design and development. There they have deployed an incremental development strategy that he learned in Baltimore called patch dynamics – many layers of smaller actions that altogether add up to a big one. And in the process he’s making his home-town a stronger, more beautiful and more inclusive community.
Justin comes to all of this with extensive experience in urban design and city planning—from large-scale urban systems, policies, and projects to grassroots and community-focused planning, design, and arts initiatives. Previously he was Senior Urban Designer for the NYC Department of City Planning for over a decade. There he was responsible for conducting complex urban design plans and studies of the physical design and utilization of sites including infrastructure, public spaces, land use patterns, and neighborhood character. His projects included the Greenpoint and Williamsburg Waterfront, Hunter’s Point South, and the Brooklyn Cultural District. He received degrees in both architecture and urban design from Columbia University, where he is now an Adjunct Associate Professor of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.
Justin is a founding member of the Black urbanist collective BlackSpace. His professional affiliations include the American Planning Association, the Urban Design Forum, and Next City’s Vanguard. He also serves as a member of the American Planning Association’s AICP Commission, on the boards of ioby.org and Made in Brownsville, and on advisory boards for the Van Alen Institute, MoMA, and Dumbarton Oaks.
Insights and Inspirations
- Community reinvestment legislation made redlining illegal in the 1970s. But according to Justin it’s alive and kicking in Indianapolis.
- I love that Justin talks about the need for beauty, commodity and delight in urban design.
- I love the idea of “patch dynamics”- change growing incrementally from little patches.
- And I love that Justin is developing an affordable housing project in Rwanda.
Information and Links
- Urban Patch is currently working on a much larger housing project in partnership with the Majora Carter group and Community Builders. You can read about it here. Their goal is to ensure long-term, sustainable, quality affordable housing.
- Check out the Peninsula Mixed-Use development in the South Bronx, one of Justin’s favorite projects and winner of an Award for Excellence in Design.
Read the podcast transcript here
Eve Picker: [00:00:06] Hi there. Thanks so much for joining me today for the latest episode of Impact Real Estate Investing.
Eve Picker: [00:00:12] My guest today is Justin Garrett Moore. Justin leads a double life that all comes together in one amazing package. He’s an urban designer and his day job is executive director of the New York City Public Design Commission. There he hopes to guard quality and excellence in public space design from large scale urban systems, policies and projects to grassroots and community focused planning, design and arts initiatives.
Eve Picker: [00:00:44] But Justin also founded Urban Patch in Indianapolis, where he grew up. There, with his parents he’s deployed an incremental strategy, many layers of smaller actions that altogether add up to a big one, making his hometown a stronger, more beautiful and more inclusive community.
Eve Picker: [00:01:05] Be sure to go to rethinkrealestateforgood.co to find out more about Justin on the show notes page for this episode. And be sure to sign up to my newsletter so that you can access information about impact real estate investing and get the latest news about the exciting projects on my crowdfunding platform, Small change.
Eve Picker: [00:01:31] Hello, Justin, welcome to my show. You know, I didn’t realize until I read your resumé how much we share in common because we both have architecture degrees, we both have a master’s in urban design from Columbia.
Justin Moore: [00:01:44] Oh, I didn’t realize. That’s wonderful.
Eve Picker: [00:01:47] And I was also a senior urban designer in the planning department for a few years. So. But then. Oh, wonderful. But then I drifted and went to the dark side and became a developer. And you became the executive director of the New York City Public Design Commission. So different paths. Right?
Justin Moore: [00:02:07] Yes. Yes. Thank you. I enjoy the urban design field because there are so many different things that you can do, whether it’s developer, public, private, non-profit. So it’s a great field.
Eve Picker: [00:02:20] Executive director of the New York City Public Design Commission is a pretty hefty title. I’d love to know a little bit about what you do there in your job.
Justin Moore: [00:02:30] Mm hmm. Sure. So here in New York, we’re very lucky in that since 1898, the city has had a part of its city government, part of the bureaucracy of the city, an agency that is responsible for the oversight of the design of our public realm are sort of common infrastructure. The city was originally called the Art Commission. This comes out of the city beautiful movement kind of during that time period where you had a lot of new parks and boulevards and public buildings that were being done not only in New York, but really all across the country or even world to make cities competitive and these sort of places of investment and an activity. In New York, there’s an entity that was created to help make sure that this was being done well, that there was some oversight and thought into how the city was being designed.
Justin Moore: [00:03:31] So fast forward to today. The name is sort of updated from Art Commission to Public Design Commission. And so what we do is we review all the different projects that are happening in the city that are the kind of constant rebuilding and new building of our public amenities. So we review somewhere between eight hundred and a thousand projects every year. And that can be Street design … Yeah. It’s a lot of work. It could be park design. It could be as simple as a building rehab or it can be a whole new development, whether, you know, buildings or even neighborhood scale redevelopment. So it’s really fun. It’s diverse. We get to work on projects all over the city and even upstate. So city owned land upstate, we review those as well. That’s something. Yeah. Yeah, it’s a lot. So I’m the kind of the head of the agency, but kind of the main force of the commission is that we have 11 volunteer members who have different backgrounds architecture, landscape, architecture, development, art, etc. who come in once a month and we review all of these projects and are our goal is to be sort of the quality control department to make sure that, you know, the billions of dollars of development kind of construction that’s happening for public projects that it’s being done.
Eve Picker: [00:04:56] Well, that’s really fascinating. So, you know, in your time, I think you’ve been in this job to three years, but before then you were at planning department for quite a while. So I’m wondering if you’ve noticed a shift in attitude to the design of place during that time.
Justin Moore: [00:05:14] Yes, absolutely. Going further back. So I started in the planning department straight out of grad school, and I worked in the Amanda Burton version of the New York City Planning Department.
Justin Moore: [00:05:27] But for those who don’t know, Amanda Burton was the planning commissioner for a long time. And she had an incredible focus and interest on public space and the role of design in the changing of the city. And so I did see early in my career and just over that’s now, you know, sort of 15 years that there is a much greater interest in the importance and role of public space and public realm and the design of those spaces in being really in a central need for for a well-functioning place, whether that’s, you know, a particular building or site or whether that’s at a scale of a neighborhood or at the scale of the city. And so you’ve seen a lot of advancements in innovation and testing. You know, some things work, some things don’t. But it’s really great to see how it’s almost like a movement of people that are interested and focused on making good places in cities and its coming from different sectors, it’s not only coming from, you know, the kind of the hero architect, the big firm, you know, the I say like those the white guys just deciding how everything is going to be there. There is a much broader coalition of people that are thinking about and operating with how we design our spaces.
Eve Picker: [00:06:51] That must be incredibly gratifying to you. I think it’s really wonderful to hear that’s happening.
Justin Moore: [00:06:58] So, yeah, we’re working with the government a long time, right? Things take a long time as you work on things for years and years and you don’t see it in reality until later. But it’s it’s sort of like my favorite thing to go around to different projects in the city. I worked for a long time on kind of big waterfront redevelopment and those projects take a very long time. But, you know, eventually you go to a place and there’s this new park or place or building or development that’s in the city. And you know that you had kind of a direct role in helping to make that place happen and seeing that it’s well used and enjoyed and is kind of performing environmentally, socially, economically, et cetera. And it’s always incredibly gratifying to see and you know, I tell people, OK, the gray hair is worth it for the stress to get some of these things done.
Eve Picker: [00:07:49] Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, you know, I was interested to hear you mentioned the city beautiful movement, which had, quite frankly, forgotten about. But, you know, beautiful is not a word that’s used often to describe places and buildings, at least in this country. I often wonder why it’s I think it’s really important, but it’s been struck from our lexicon. What’s your experience with that? You know, we talk about excellence and words like that.
Justin Moore: [00:08:16] Right. Right. Yeah. So I mean that it’s like the architect in me. Right. So, you know, we talk about the design and how should we be building and doing things and talk about excellence. We kind of break it down into the old architect ingredients of, you know, beauty, commodity and delight. Right. That, you know, that there’s multiple things that has to function to be excellent. It has to kind of be responsible in terms of environmental cost measures. But it also has to be, you know, of of interest to people. I mean, ultimately, people are building it. So, you know, giving some form of delight is important and beauty is absolutely ingredient there. I think the reduction of the uses that obviously that’s incredibly subjective, especially in places that are fairly diverse like New York. So, you know, you may go and have a project in a community that has one kind of major demographic group and kind of their cultural reference points for what constitutes beauty may be very different from another group or even kind of the amalgamation of all of our mutual agreement on something that that’s valued is as beautiful.And so it’s it’s difficult to kind of have one idea or one word right during city beautiful movement.There is all these projects happening in and of course, their value is as beautiful, but they came out of a very particular progeny, right, so European. I mean, again, I hate to keep harping on it, but like there is a clear power structure that was communicated through that way of designing the city. Right. And then during the modern movement, we had another version of that. So, you know, kind of the modern plaza. You know, there’s no people or no earnings, clean space and, you know, the building and all of that, maybe some kind of modernist artwork like that. That that was a different generation. But it left out what we call the multitude of people. Right. And their values of of what’s beautiful. So it’s something that we have a challenge with. And frankly, every project that we look at and do in the city is that, you know, we’re not here to kind of be the arbiter of what is beauty and what is excellence. We have to have this sort of broader understanding of what that is and how you accomplish it.
Eve Picker: [00:10:47] Right. That’s pretty difficult. I wish we could all celebrate old beauty because it’s so important in cities. You know, the other thing that you work on, that your second role, which I personally find extremely intriguing and pretty wonderful, is as founder of the Urban Patch. And I’d love I’d love to chat about what you’ve accomplished with that organization in Indianapolis. And why the Urban Patch?
Justin Moore: [00:11:16] Sure. So the origin story I tell people that it kind of comes from two threads. I mentioned earlier that I went to Graduate school at Columbia in the urban design program, and one of the studios I took during the program was working in Baltimore and St. Anton Winchester, kind of West Baltimore neighborhoods, working with something called the Urban eco- Baltimore Ecosystems Study, where it was ecologists working together with social scientists and designers to talk about how urban environments were changing through an environmental lens. One of the kind of foundational concepts of that work was something called urban patch dynamics. And so patch dynamics comes from the kind of ecology field where you talk about how, for example, a certain species of tree may promulgate through a forest over time in this kind of incremental way or, you know, different kind of pattern of change that happen. And at those kinds of patterns that we see in in those kind of environmental contexts also happen in urban contexts. And so the basis of this is that change happens in these kind of patches or incremental ways, not only through kind of the big policy or project or top-down kind of thing.
[00:12:45] So that was something that very much informed kind of how I think about urban projects and urban change. And it’s sort of been sitting there for a while. So that’s one kind of thread. And then the other was that I started along with my dad doing some kind of family history and research and learned that my grandfather was involved in this organization called Flanner House. And back in the 1940s and 1950s, this organization did this really incredible work around community development and many different aspects of that, from food access and health through to jobs and skills to even housing construction and neighborhood planning and design.
Justin Moore: [00:13:35] So it was this kind of moment of inspiration like, wow, you know, kind of black people in Indianapolis and in that time period were able to kind of advance these really incredible projects that that spoke to many of the needs and challenges that we do today. And so kind of inspired by that. But then thinking about how do I adapt it for today and the context now, I sort of borrowed from what I learned in that urban ecology studio working in Baltimore and found a way through doing our own projects, kind of incremental scale work that we could find a way to have positive change in our community. So it started very simply. My parents and I, we just said, OK, in our neighborhood where I grew up, which, you know, it’s a lot of vacant buildings and disinvestment. They were kind of a standard in our community, unfortunately. But we started with the idea we were going to take a vacant house and a vacant lot and we were going to purchase them and fix them up and make them better. And if that worked, that we would just keep do it again and again until our own little urban patch kind of grows and has a tangible and legible way of making our community better. So that was how it started.
Eve Picker: [00:15:03] That’s a pretty fabulous story. It’s really fun. And what does it become?
Justin Moore: [00:15:09] Yes. So it’s it’s it’s there’s so many different layers to it. So this is where more of the kind of the urban ecology side comes through. But the idea is that you have a lot of many different kinds of actions that add up together. So we’ve done a number of different projects. We’re up to eight homes and nine, maybe 10 lots that we’ve done in this kind of, you know, one by one incremental approach. But we’ve also done a number of different scales of operation. So we’ve done tree planting campaigns. So the neighborhood where we are, there’s the issue with urban tree canopy, and so we raised some funds and we’re able to provide free trees to people that live in the community to help with the revitalization of the tree canopy across the, you know, the entire neighborhood. And thinking about the many different kinds of people that live in the neighborhood in that meant it was important to have this kind of long term kind of connection to the neighborhood, but also some kind of a connection and similarity with with one another. Right you have, kind of the old timers, people have lived in the neighborhood for decades, if not generations, and then you have the newcomers that you know or along with gentrification and other things are coming new to the community and may not have kind of a strong link to the place or even to their their neighbors who have been there a long time.
Justin Moore: [00:16:44] We’ve done more of the placemaking type work, the idea that as our neighborhood is changing, that we’re a part of the authorship and the impetus for that change. So we’ve done community gardens and kind of community scale artwork, murals and and sculpture, things of that nature that we do in our our neighborhood within our own patch, right within our geography that we can say, yes, this neighborhood is changing, but we are the ones who are changing it. And so it it kind of brings in a different level of agency and conversation to development.
Eve Picker: [00:17:23] It’s pretty fabulous. And are your parents enjoying themselves?
Justin Moore: [00:17:26] Yes, my parents are, you know, they’re retirement age. So it’s you know, they’ve always been very, very active people. I tell people I didn’t fall far from the tree. I do a lot. My parents also do a lot. And so, yeah, they’re, you know, kind of the lifeblood of so much of this work. And, you know, the idea of kind of community development and key word being community, so you have to know people, talk with people, kind of listen to people as you’re doing this work. And so having that, you know, I’m in New York while my parents are still home in the neighborhood. You know, they really are connected with these kind of changes that are happening. And we can do our work in a way that is navigating that and still being connected to to the people.
Eve Picker: [00:18:16] So what’s what’s the current project that you’re working on? In both places.
Justin Moore: [00:18:24] So the other thing is it’s really three places. So in Indianapolis, it’s incredibly exciting that we’ve worked with a local Neighborhood Development Corporation called the Mapleton Fall Creek Neighborhood Corporation Development Corporation. And so there is a big three block where we’re two and a half block site, vacant site that’s been in the neighborhood for a very long time. And we’re working with a developer called the Community Builders out of Boston.
Eve Picker: [00:18:52] No, I know them, yeah
Justin Moore: [00:18:54] Majora Carter Group here in New York and Urban Patch to redevelop that site. So we’re incredibly excited that the first phase of that is is getting underway in its planning process. We received our kind of zoning and planning approvals, are waiting for the July tax credit allocation time, time period to get some things lined up on funding. But that project has kind of the city and local support to move forward. And so that will be an incredibly transformative and frankly, larger scale of development that we’ve been able to frankly bring some outside thought and outside people to our community. Like we want the best for our community and so, you know, finding new players and actors to think about how development can happen in our neighborhood in a new way. And the Majora Carter piece is that it’s not just the kind of standard affordable housing tax credit project, but there’s a component that will be around creating a local employment and food related business hub as a part of that development. So that we’re not just bringing housing, but also access to some some much needed jobs.
Eve Picker: [00:20:15] So that is pretty, pretty exciting. Did you know I interviewed Majora a few weeks ago? She’s amazing.
Justin Moore: [00:20:25] Yes, I do know, in fact
Eve Picker: [00:20:28] I’m jealous. So I want to do that project with you. It sounds sounds absolutely terrific. So, yeah. What about in New York? What’s your favorite thing you’re working on now? Or something that you are excited about.
Justin Moore: [00:20:40] Yes. So, yeah, here in New York, I think especially at the design commission, we’ve been I mentioned we looked at a lot of different projects. So it’s sort of crazy nonstop work. But the kind of favorite thread that I have is that we have been doing a lot of work on affordable housing. And the idea that this conversation we had earlier about beauty and what makes excellence that we did this whole research effort to actually talk about that. So often affordable housing is sort of discussed with the pragmatics. Right. We need a number unit, needs to be affordable, we need to get construction costs low. But we wanted to elevate the conversation about how do we get excellent affordable housing and that looks like different things. It’s not necessarily that an architect designed it. It’s – is it accomplishing the many different layers of of how you have a well designed building, whether that’s aesthetic or functional or about how it fits in with its context or community. And so we developed something called designing anti-work quality affordable housing. So it’s a free guide. Anybody can download it. There’s even an app. Yeah, there is even an app. So you can go download our our app and you can find good examples of affordable housing, not only in New York but all across the country.
Justin Moore: [00:22:10] So with this sort of research project that we’ve shown and demonstrated the many different ways that you can accomplish good design for affordable housing while still meeting, you know, your cost of construction and the different programmatic needs, whether it’s on financing or kind of policy side, no,.
Eve Picker: [00:22:27] That sounds fabulous.
Justin Moore: [00:22:30] And so it’s been sort of great tool. And my favorite kind of project that came out of that work is something called the peninsula, which is in the South Bronx. And this was at a former juvenile detention facility that had been a place of violence and terror for that community in terms of its young people being put into this unjust facility. They’ve been closed and the city redeveloped the site, and we were able to kind of have an early design conversation about what is going to make this re-imagination, this site, you know, positive for this community, not only, you know, when the thing opens, but in the long term. And so we’ve got, you know, a really great project that looks at design for many different angles, whether it’s from the public space view or the building design view or the urban design scale view. It’s been a great result. And the project has, you know, gone through all the approvals and broken ground and we’re excited to see it moving forward.
Eve Picker: [00:23:34] It sounds pretty fabulous. So I’m sort of in awe. It’s really great! Amazing work.
Justin Moore: [00:23:43] So there is one I was going to say there is one more thread, which a kind of a branch of urban patch where we’re also designing, building and developing affordable housing in Kigali, Rwanda. And so that’s kind of our our next phase of work is sort of how these conversations about the need for good quality design and housing go to even some of these global contexts where there’s truly an incredible need, you know, rapid urbanization happening in in the sub-Saharan African context. And so we’ve started doing work there and are nearing completion by the end of this year of our first eight unit mixed-income housing development that will have some market rate and some affordable housing, which is a pretty unique sort of proposition in that context.
Eve Picker: [00:24:42] Who are you partnering with there?
Justin Moore: [00:24:45] So we’re the kind of the designer developer on the project, but we’re working with, there’s an NGO called Scat Consulting. And so they do essentially technical assistance around everything related to building. Right. They look at the whole pipeline for everything from construction materials and the training needed to build through to addressing some of the policy issues that are necessary to get certain types of development to happen. So they’re an NGO, or connected to an NGO, the Swiss Development Corporation. And so they’re providing this technical assistance, procuring those pliers and laborers and all of that is work that they’ve been doing on the ground. And so we’re coming in as kind of the designer and kind of combo designer and developer who’s funding the project and sourcing from, you know, kind of the suppliers and people that they’ve developed over time and working of course with a local architect of record for filing and construction management and all of that. So it’s been it’s been a really exciting project.
Eve Picker: [00:25:57] And so how do you fund that? Like you said, you’ll acting as the developer?
Justin Moore: [00:26:00] Bootstrapped.
Justin Moore: [00:26:01] Yes. So Urban Patch, the the business model of Urban Patch is that we you know, we started with these projects. We don’t ever like flip them, we don’t sell them. We keep the asset. And as I mentioned, the neighborhood has been gentrifying. And so there was a significant amount of equity that has built up in those projects, and so we were able to access some of our equity from our holdings in Indianapolis to completely self-fund the project in Rwanda.
Eve Picker: [00:26:34] I mean, that’s a stunning example of how some gentrification can actually help a neighborhood. Right.
Justin Moore: [00:26:44] Right. Yeah. So that’s the kind of the other thread. It’s not the origin story, but something that happened with Urban Patch was that very early we sort of came in full conflict with like the realities of the world of real estate and urban development in America. So I mentioned oh bought the first house, bought the first lot. We went to go buy that first house but I was not able to get financing to buy that first house, even though I had, you know, six figure income, had the downpayment needed, had a near perfect credit score, and no one would loan me money to develop in my own neighborhood. Right. But I’m looking and it’s like, well, we see, frankly, all these white people coming in and they don’t have this problem. You know, they do it all the time. And, you know, you can let mortgages, you can look that stuff up. You could see they’re getting a mortgage for a house two doors down. And so the racism in the whole system still exists. And so the project became this sort of – It ended up becoming this anti-gentrification project and not necessarily anti-gentrification in general, but like, how do we get a different kind of result out of these processes that that are radically changing our our communities? So the first project I actually had to – I was like, I’m going to do this. And so I maxed out all my credit cards and I bought the house in cash. That’s how I got that first deal done because no one would give me a mortgage, even though I met every criteria that you’re supposed to have.
Eve Picker: [00:28:25] And how much was how much was the mortgage?
Justin Moore: [00:28:29] It was one hundred and twenty two thousand.
Eve Picker: [00:28:33] Not a lot of money, nonetheless. No, not a lot. Not like you were asking for two million dollar loan.
Justin Moore: [00:28:39] No, no, no, no. And it was in a completely absurd. It was completely absurd. And it happens to this day. So like that, you know, people talk about, you know, redlining as if it’s a thing of the past. Redlining still exists. It happens in a very surreptitious way, but it absolutely still exists. And, you know, the kind of the work that we ended up doing was to kind of subvert that. And so we ended up finding like, it’s great – The Farmer’s Bank of Indiana is kind of a small community bank that they will loan money to us now. Right. It’s insane, but you had to kind of find ways around to get the work done. And we’ve been able to kind of scale and continue our model in this incremental way. But frankly, the way that we’re able to do that is that the prices in the neighborhood are going up. And so we’re able to use equity to fund our our next stages of of projects and do it in a way that doesn’t require us to charge our tenants a lot of rent. So essentially the we’re able to charge rents that are essentially kind of the cost of the transaction rate, the mortgage tax, insurance, maintenance management. Right. So there’s no profit that we’re taking. Right. As a part of that, our profit is the fact that there is value growing. Right. Both the value of the tenants paying down the debt, but also the fact that the prices are going up in the neighborhood.
Eve Picker: [00:30:24] But let’s let’s be clear about this. It’s not just your asset value because by doing this you’ve added value to the neighborhood.
Justin Moore: [00:30:32] Exactly. Yeah. The neighborhood and the city. We pay a lot of taxes. These are vacant buildings and vacant lots that we’re now paying for it. It’s there. Multiple benefit.
Eve Picker: [00:30:46] Yes. Yeah. Wow. So, you know, there’s always small change.
Justin Moore: [00:30:55] Yeah, I’m a fan of so small change. I forget how many projects of yours. I mean, I don’t put a lot in, but I put a little bit. They’re all interesting to me. So I’m like, oh, like to see that. I love it. I love the platform.
Eve Picker: [00:31:07] Love to help urban passion. Think. You guys are amazing. So thank you. Thank you. Yeah, it’s really it’s pretty wonderful stuff. And, you know, I know this is red lining, but but it’s also not just about you. If I try and go into a neighborhood that hasn’t had any investment as a white woman I can’t I can’t get a loan. Right. Right. Right. There’s no value there to get a loan against against it. It’s the entire neighborhood. It’s like. I think maybe someone who’s buying a house to live in it is treated as a different category by the bank. They’re homeowners.
Justin Moore: [00:31:44] Oh no, these were homeowners. These were flippers that were coming into our neighborhood. No, this is the sort of thing. The flippers. They come in, they they get the little lady and they scam her to get her house and they know what the house can sell for. And they don’t even they don’t even fix it up. They just get in there. And yeah, it’s it’s it is a pervasive problem in black communities across the country. It happens in Brooklyn. It happens. And it’s it is a thing. But they’ve got they’re doing it at large scale. Right. So they’re they’ve gotten an established relationship with the bank. That’s it. And the bank says, you know, oh, appraisal, whatever they wink-wink, they send their appraiser out there it goes and tells them the house is worth whatever they say it’s worth. You know, appraiser comes out and they see, oh, there’s too many black people around. And it’s not worth that. Is this have the appraisal industry is it is all a part of it?
Justin Moore: [00:32:39] It is. It is to this day a racist system.
Eve Picker: [00:32:45] It’s shocking.
Justin Moore: [00:32:45] And, you know, Wells Fargo was I mean, there there are many ways to to that part, which is why, you know, things like crowd-funding and, you know, other mechanisms are gonna be more and more important because, you know, these systems by regulation and, you know, there’s a lot that, you know, they’re not supposed to be doing these things, but they still do. And so sometimes you just have to find a different way.
Eve Picker: [00:33:12] So I hope that there’s some bankers listening to this podcast and they’ll come knocking on your door. That would be really a great outcome. Right.
Justin Moore: [00:33:22] Yeah. I mean, yeah, we’re we’ve been. You know, 2012 was the first one. And so we’ve been growing, you know, and it’s sustainable. And, you know, we don’t lose money. We don’t make money. Right. I got a cash flow basis, as I mentioned, that we keep our rents low. So it’s not like we’re earning a bunch of money that way. But all of our assets are sort of growing. As you know, the longer we hold the debt goes down, the equity goes up, etc. And you know, and it’s designed in a way, you know, frankly, the real estate markets are probably going to soften or if not crash at some point soon. But our math is designed that, you know, we’re holding significantly below market rents. And so something crashes. It’s not like, oh, we can’t command that rent. We still will be able to hold our our property.
Eve Picker: [00:34:13] You know, the crash of 2008, 2009, I had properties in in Pittsburgh that were in neighborhoods that were really underserved, but really beautiful buildings. And I didn’t even notice the crash.
Justin Moore: [00:34:29] Right. Because the value was there.
Eve Picker: [00:34:31] Right now, the value was there. And here is where the word beauty becomes important. The units were really interesting and unique and and lovely and people wanted to live in them and ,,
Justin Moore: [00:34:44] And so most of our homes are in a historic district. And so they are very they are these that embodied beauty and values is definitely a really key piece and kind of on the historic preservation and asset side.
Eve Picker: [00:34:56] So hopefully that plays out again anyway. Really fascinating. So. Given everything you do, do you think socially responsible real estate is necessary in today’s development landscape?
Justin Moore: [00:35:14] Yeah. I mean, I feel very strongly that the idea of connecting social responsibility and in real estate is, I think, one of the best tools that we have for advancing social and economic equity. You know, there is a lot of work being done on this. So, you know, kind of community land trust movement and things of that nature, I think are getting this. But the reality in the US at least is that the biggest kind of asset base that people have is still their homes and real estate and property, because, you know, the financial markets aren’t necessarily accessible and advantageous for for everyone or as many people as the real estate markets have been. And probably because they’re tangible in some way, they’re they’re direct. You live in a neighborhood. There is a shop you go to. There’s a house you live in. You know, you you literally experience it every day. And so I think people can naturally connect to and value that in a very direct way. Unfortunately, we hear mostly about the other side of it. Right. The market forces and the big investors come in and buy up or even gentrification forces, but really thinking about how you can create business models and new models to use it as a tool to create stability, to grow wealth, to have some degree of self-determination, for yourself or your family, for your community. You know, however you define the scale, responsibility can happen through real estate. And, you know, we need to address some of the inequalities and unfairness that still exists that we were talking about before. But there’s also the opportunity to talk about kind of the new tools and and the kind of models that we want to see that that this can be done differently.
Eve Picker: [00:37:23] Yeah, well, this has been a great conversation. So I have three sign-off questions I’m going to ask you. And the first is, what is the key factor that makes a real estate project impactful to you?
Justin Moore: [00:37:38] Key factor? So for me, the key factor would be the kind of long term sustainability. Right. The main issue I have with real estate is the kind of the transactional piece. Right. So and when things are kind of flipped and exchanged in this kind of quick way, you know, somebody has to make money. And it’s not necessarily sustainable to do that over the long term. And so people that people or projects or initiatives that have kind of a longer view, and that could be, you know, from a financial standpoint, like does it pencil out kind of a thing, but it can also be social, right. You know, my my model in urban patch, you know, it’s not dependent on us charging money or amounts that, you know, people from our neighborhood cannot afford. Right. There are models that do rely on that and there are models that don’t. It could even be you know, there’s a lot of conversations about sustainable development goals and climate and green new deal. Right. Long term like the environmental prospects of a project. Right. So that sustainability, peace has socio economic and environmental dimensions.
Eve Picker: [00:38:54] So the second question, I actually think you ask an incredibly interesting way. I’m going to ask it again. Do you think crowdfunding can benefit and impact real estate development in more ways than just raising money?
Justin Moore: [00:39:10] Oh, yes, for sure. I think crowd funding has the potential, but not totally there yet, but definitely the potential to increase and broaden access, to having more people be able to participate in real estate and to have some kind of ownership of change that may be happening in their communities. And I think that the existing models for access to capital and access to resources, you know, it takes a lot for people to to get into those systems and to be able to operate. Crowdfunding does have the potential to sort of make that not such a high bar for people, both on people wanting to invest and to have ownership, but also people that are, you know, just trying to get and get a deal together to do, you know, to get their idea out there. Right. And that, you know, you can kind of have benefit to to both of those kind of players.
Eve Picker: [00:40:19] Yes. Yes. And then finally and this is a really hard thing, but if you could fix one thing or improve one thing about real estate development in the U.S., what would that be?
Justin Moore: [00:40:31] I I. The racism, it still exists. And you have to acknowledge it. It still exists to do anything about it.
Eve Picker: [00:40:40] Yes, I acknowledge it. It’s that’s a pretty chilling story.
Justin Moore: [00:40:45] So, yeah, it’s interesting. Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro, a lot of the current Democratic candidates in some of their policy papers and things have been pointing to recent scholarship. So the Richard Rothstein, “The color of Law”, I forget the author, “The color of money”. So there’s a lot of kind of research and scholarship coming out on this where people are identifying these things and and noting that kind of the present day effects. And so I’m really happy to see that conversation happening more and more.
Eve Picker: [00:41:23] Well, this has been a really wonderful conversation, and I wish you all the best with your next projects. I’m sure there’s going to be many of them. Thanks.
Justin Moore: [00:41:32] Thank you. Happy to do it.
Eve Picker: [00:41:38] That was Justin Garrett Moore. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. And there are just too many takeaways to share them all, but here are my top three. I love the Justin talked about the need for beauty, commodity and delight in urban design. I love the idea of patch dynamics – change growing incrementally from little patches. And I love that Justin is developing an affordable housing project in Rwanda.
Eve Picker: [00:42:08] You can find out more about impact real estate investing and access the show notes for today’s episode at my Web site, rethinkrealestateforgood.co. While you’re there, sign up for my newsletter to find out more about how to make money in real estate while building better cities. Thank you so much for spending time with me today. And thank you, Justin, for sharing your thoughts with me. We’ll talk again soon. But for now, this is Eve Picker signing off to go make some change.
Image courtesy of Justin Garrett Moore