More and more, investors want to do more than make money. They want to invest in triple bottom line projects that are socially responsible as well. Environment, Social and Governance (“ESG”) investing is a rapidly expanding investment category and already offers a wide array of opportunities, many of which produce competitive returns. Unfortunately, many investors still fear that investing in an impactful project means sacrificing returns.
It’s time to get over that. There are lots of opportunities for investment in projects that do good as well as provide a competitive or even above-market return. Just like any other investment, there are some basics to keep in mind when looking for and making socially conscious real estate investments.
How can I make sure a project offers impact?
What exactly is Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)? It means investing in companies or projects that have ethical practices and positive social impacts. Simply put, this means investing in ventures and companies that work to have a positive impact in their community.
Just because a company or a project claims to have a positive social impact doesn’t necessarily mean that it does. You’ll need to evaluate that impact for yourself. You can do that in any number of ways that make sense to you. In real estate you might be interested in affordable housing, energy efficiency, elimination of blight or supporting a neighborhood project. Everyone has their passion project and you will have yours too.
At Small Change we’ve developed our own set of measures called the Small Change Index. These measures are built around three impact pillars – mobility, economic vitality and community. Any project that lists an offering on the Small Change platform must score at lease 60% on our proprietary Change Index survey. This provides some flexibility and quite a variety of impactful projects to choose from.
How should I evaluate return?
When you consider investing in an SRI, you’ll be thinking about two things – the social impact that the project makes and the potential for a return on your investment. These two goals are not always compatible. It’s a balancing act. One may be more important than the other to you. It’s important to consider them independently, weigh each carefully and make your investment decision accordingly. Sometimes the scale may tip towards doing good, and sometimes the scale may tip towards doing well. If you’re lucky, you’ll find projects with perfect balance.
What are some examples?
For example, you may want to invest in a project in your neighborhood. Perhaps it’s a building that fills a lot that has been vacant for many years and has been a neighborhood eyesore. The return on this investment is most likely to be much greater than just a financial return to you. This building promises to improve your neighborhood, and along with that perhaps improve the value of your house. Or maybe you want to invest in an affordable housing project, because you care about housing security for everyone. Affordable housing is an especially difficult socially responsible investment class. The greater the return on equity invested, the higher the end rent the tenant will pay. High returns and supporting housing security may not go hand in hand. You’ll need to decide which matters more to you with an affordable housing investment opportunity.
At Small Change we’ve had first-hand experience with high impact projects that have provided competitive financial returns to investors as well. To date the balance has been pretty well perfect, with not one project that has returned less than 10% per annum to date, and the most successful returning an extraordinary 21%+ IRR. These are competitive returns even for projects that don’t provide any social returns. And take a look as well at the creative ways that Jorge Newberry and his team at American Homeowner Preservation are working to help thousands of Americans stay in their homes, all the while providing handsome returns to their investors.
All that to say, there are plenty of investment options that are socially conscious and that offer investors a good return on investment as well.
Why should I care?
There are plenty of social issues that plague our planet. Climate change and the affordable housing crisis, to name just two, are on everyone’s mind today. When you invest in an affordable housing project, you are taking action to help solve the problem. When you invest in a net zero or a transit-oriented building project, you are taking action to help solve climate change. Similarly, when you invest in your community, you’ll reap the benefits and so will your neighbors. And so on.
Socially responsible investment is not rocket science. It’s common sense. Go ahead. Invest in something you care about.
Image of building in San Anonio, Texas, by Eve Picker