Max Levine’s organization, NICO (Neighborhood Investment Company), has a mission “to localize wealth creation and broaden access to neighborhood equity.” The Los Angeles neighborhood Max lives in, Echo Park, has an income average of $40,000, whereas the average home is valued at $900,000 – an enormous discrepancy. Max and his business partner, John Chaffetz, began exploring the gap between home ownership and renting, testing financial models of what might fall in between. They ended up with the innovative idea of a neighborhood REIT (real estate investment trust) that would allow members of a local community, property owners and tenants, to literally invest in the place that they live by buying shares of local properties owned by an investment trust. Their first effort is NICO Echo Park, with an initial portfolio of three rent-stabilized apartment buildings.
NICO, not surprisingly modeled as a B-Corp, aims instead to create both societal benefit as well as modest financial growth. By taking the REIT structure and applying it at the local level, stakeholders who want to have a financial stake in their neighborhood can buy shares, starting at only $100. They can make a one-time token investment or make monthly investments to build up a deeper, long-term commitment. In addition, NICO has given each of the tenants in their buildings $1,000 worth of shares.
Though now in LA, Max spent his working career mostly in New York City, as a financial analyst and later as CFO at Storage Deluxe, a self-storage giant, with a stint working on their subsidiary, UOVO Fine Art Storage. He even took an entrepreneurial break to open a delicatessen in Brooklyn. He is also a member of Top Tier Impact, a small, global community of investors, entrepreneurs and experts whose goal is to “accelerate mainstream adoption of impact and sustainability as the way of investing and running companies.”
Insights and Inspirations
- Home is neighborhood. It’s a unit of organization.
- With NICO, Max wants to create a new housing typology, located between renting and home ownership.
- There’s a lot of love in neighborhoods. And that’s super-exciting!
- The relationship between residents and property owners, or landlords and tenants, needs to be radically reframed.
Information and Links
- Max has been listening to the amazing music and programming from their friends at Dublab, and which has helped keep their spirits high during the last year.
- He and his team are super-proud of the work that Helen Leung and the team at LA Mas have done to help coordinate the Northeast LA Community Response to the Covid-19 emergency. Helen is a board member of NICO Echo Park, Benefit Corp.
- Max also wanted to highlight the work of Women’s Center for Creative Work, which has also inspired them.
Read the podcast transcript here
Eve Picker: [00:00:11] Hi there, thanks so much for joining me today for the latest episode of Impact Real Estate Investing. My guest today is Max Levine, founder of NICO. A few years ago, Max noticed a very big gap between traditional home ownership and renting, and he wondered what might fall in between. At the same time, he wanted to explore how to create localized wealth and neighborhood equity, and he found the solution to his quest at his own back door. In Echo Park, the neighborhood he lives in, a highly diverse neighborhood, incomes average forty thousand dollars, yet the average home sells for nine hundred thousand. Max took a huge leap in order to bridge that gap by creating NICO, a neighborhood investment company, or REIT through NICO locals can literally invest in the place that they live in by buying shares of local properties owned by NICO. But Max doesn’t want to stop there. Listen in to hear more. And be sure to go to EvePicker.com to read the show notes page for this episode. You can sign up for my newsletter so you can get access to information about impact real estate investing and get the latest news about the exciting projects on my crowdfunding platform, Small Change.
Eve: [00:01:50] Hello, Max, thanks so much for joining me today.
Max Levine: [00:01:53] Yeah, thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here with you.
Eve: [00:01:57] So, I’m really fascinated to hear, because like me you’ve plunged into the fintech crowdfunding world to solve a problem. And I think your NICO is sort of a version of Small Change, although a little bit different as we’re going to discover. So, it’s really nice to interview someone in the same industry.
Max: [00:02:15] Absolutely. Great to connect with you.
Eve: [00:02:19] First, I wanted to ask you what problem you’re trying to solve.
Max: [00:02:21] NICO really started, NICO stands for the “neighborhood investment company” and we really started, really with an observation of just how broken housing in this country is. And initially, we sort of were focused on thinking about, you know on one hand, you have traditional home-ownership which is held up, you know, sort of the American dream and this example of what Americans should aspire to, sort of the responsible thing. But it’s so out of reach for so many people. And, you know, on the other hand, you have renting, which is more accessible, lower barrier to entry, certainly more flexible. And for us, you know, housing as being this sort of, I’ll use the word “choice,” but it’s not really a choice for so many people because homeownership is still out of reach.
Eve: [00:03:13] Yeh, that’s right.
Max: [00:03:13] But there’s these two options, right? And so initially we start to think about how could we play a role in creating the third option that sits in between traditional homeownership and renting, one that confers some of the benefits of traditional homeownership, you know, the opportunity for wealth creation and connection to place and sort of putting down roots. And on the other hand, you know, was sort of flexible and more accessible the way that renting is. And so, that was sort of the first observation is, you know, if you were going to design a housing system for today’s world to reflect the realities of the real economy today, our thesis is the system would probably not look too similar to the system we have in place. And our, you know, vision is to try and create, you know, really a new product that is more in line with the way the economy is working today and specifically around access to capital and opportunities for wealth creation for folks.
Eve: [00:04:10] Right, Yeh, I always think of rental as not providing comfortable stability.
Max: [00:04:16] Yeh.
Eve: [00:04:16] For example, when places gentrify you can’t be certain that your home won’t be taken away from you, which is troubling.
Max: [00:04:23] Yeah, correct. Right. And I would say it’s even deeper than that. You know, I think that’s a big element. Housing stability and security is a big element of it. I mean, even the word, right? Even the words “landlord” and “tenant”.
Eve: [00:04:36] Um hmm.
Max: [00:04:36] And those are words that are rooted in medieval servitude. Right? That whole paradigm and the whole way that that relationship is set out is one that is, you know, not rooted generally in equity or respect. Right? And so, I think there’s also sort of an element where that relationship between, you know, residents and property owners or landlords and tenants, needs to be radically reframed. And I think housing stability and security is a big part of the outcome of what that could look like. But I think there are other ones as well. For instance, I think there’s a real bias against renting as an option. I think it’s viewed as being ‘less than’ homeownership.
Eve: [00:05:22] Right.
Max: [00:05:22] And I think that narrative that exists really broadly needs to change because the reality is, you know, renting is. If it evolves a bit, I think has the potential to be a better option than homeownership for a lot of folks.
Eve: [00:05:37] Yes. yup.
Max: [00:05:38] And that’s part of the future that we’re trying to build through our product.
[00:05:42] And I would say the other, you know, sort of big thing that we’re trying to solve for is, you know, when you ask people where they live, where home is, you know, nine out of 10 times they’ll say, I live in Echo Park or I live in Inwood or I live in Greenpoint. They’ll sort of lead with the neighborhood, right? For us at NICO. The neighborhood as a unit of organization, to us, is sort of the most important of social organization that we have, right? Because it’s larger than your family unit, but it’s still close enough and personal enough that you develop really meaningful connections with folks in your community, whether they’re neighbors or small business owners or organizations that you support or volunteer with. And so, for us in thinking about how to create a new housing typology in between renting and homeownership, it was really important to think about how we could sort of give the appropriate place and the appropriate role to the neighborhood. And NICO, which is the neighborhood investment company, is really sort of come out of both of those lines of inquiry.
Eve: [00:06:54] That’s interesting. So, how does NICO work?
Max: [00:06:58] We have launched what we believe is the world’s first neighborhood “real estate investment trust” or neighborhood REIT. And what that means is that, you know, we’re a real estate investment company that owns a portfolio of income-producing properties and potentially other real estate-related investments, within a specific neighborhood. And so, the first neighborhood REIT is here in Echo Park, in Los Angeles. It’s called NICO Echo Park Benefit Corp. And it’s a company that has a share structure that owns portfolio property. Today, we own three rent-stabilized multifamily apartment buildings, one of which is a mixed-use building with some retail on Sunset Boulevard. And people can invest into the REIT through our website, mynico.com, and become shareholders in the company that owns this portfolio of property. And our vision with this and our, you know, what we’re trying to sort of build is we want to create an opportunity for thousands of people within a community, many of whom, in the case of Echo Park, most of whom are excluded from being homeowners, we want to create a way for them to be able to build wealth, build belonging and sort of participate as primary financial stakeholders in their neighborhood through a responsibly managed, impact-focused, neighborhood investment company. And that’s what it is.
Eve: [00:08:29] So, why Echo Park?
Max: [00:08:32] There’s a lot of reasons why Echo Park, but I don’t think that this concept is limited to Echo Park. I think some of the dynamics that are playing out in Echo Park and have played at in Echo Park are playing out in communities all over the country. Some of these reasons are sort of specific to Echo Park and some, I think, are speaking to the broader dynamic that we see in communities like Echo Park all over the country. So, the first thing I would say is that Echo Park is an incredible dynamic beloved neighborhood. Dodger Stadium is here. There’s an incredible music and creative community that’s been here for a long time. And, you know, people who live in Echo Park choose to live there because they love what this community is about, and it is speaking to them and it’s the place that they want to call home. So, there’s a lot of neighborhood love here. At the same time, you know, the median household income in Echo Park is approximately forty thousand dollars a year. The average home price is over nine hundred thousand dollars, and, you know, about seventy five percent of the households in the neighborhood are renter households, right? And so, that speaks to this huge gap where homeownership is really out of reach for a lot of folks, right?
Eve: [00:09:51] Yes.
Max: [00:09:52] And there’s a lot of love and there’s, you know, a desire to be more secure, qnd being a resident of this community and, you know, Echo Park has experienced significant amount of gentrification. It’s a neighborhood that has experienced a lot of change over the last 20 years, I would say, you know, maybe especially over the last 10 years. And that dynamic creates, which we primarily view through a lens of inclusion or exclusion, right? Who is benefiting, who is accruing benefit from this change, who is being harmed by the change? And so, this dynamic where people love their neighborhood, they’re excluded from being homeowners because it’s just too out of reach, and the neighborhood is changing in a way that feels kind of out of control. You know, we want to create a way that over time, and this isn’t something that can be sort of solved in six months or a year or even five years, but we think over 10 years or 15 years or 20 years, if you have a way for many more people, radically more people within the community to be able to build wealth in a fair, flexible, incremental way, we think that that could drive some very, very special outcomes relative to the current paradigm, if those people are able to build wealth through investing in their community.
Eve: [00:11:12] So, can anyone invest, or do you restrict investment to locals or people who live in Echo Park?
Max: [00:11:19] Yeah, so investment is open to local people and to non-local people. Within the REIT, we have two classes of shares. We have a class of local shares, Class L shares and a class of non-local shares. And so, it’s open to both groups, though the local shareholders have some benefits on some concrete terms of the offering, like the redemption plan, which is how people would request to get their money out. Or, and also, and you know I’d love to talk a little bit more about this, we’re a benefit corporation. You know, sort of at our, at a DNA level for our company, we have a legal responsibility to balance financial returns to our shareholders with social and environmental impact of our business on stakeholders, right? So, on a group of people beyond just our shareholders. And our local shareholders are one of the key stakeholder groups that we will count on to help inform specifically our non-financial objectives and our non-financial measurement and performance.
Eve: [00:12:19] Right. So, what percentage of your investors actually live in the neighborhood, to date? I know that might change, but I’d be interested to know that.
Max: [00:12:28] We launched the offering, and I should say the offering itself is a Reg A+ offering, which means that NICO Echo Park is a public, non-listed REIT. So, we’re regulated by the SEC, you know, there’s a lot of sort of robust reporting, audited financials, all sorts of stuff like that.
Eve: [00:12:49] Oh, I know it well.
Max: [00:12:50] Yeh. And what that allows us to do is, whereas many real estate investments, most real estate investments are only open to, you know, what the government calls accredited investors, which is another way of saying rich people, By being a public company, and using this type of offering, we’re open to both accredited investors and non-accredited investors or non-wealthy people. And so, we’ve set our investment minimum at one hundred dollars, which is very low for this type of offering. And our, you know, objective in that is to make sure that as many people as want to, within the community and nationally, have the opportunity to support this model and participate in this model. We haven’t publicly disclosed the breakdown between local and non-local investors, so far. I think that we’ll probably do that on our supplemental filing. That’ll be coming up pretty soon. So, I’m going to sort of hold on answering that question. It’s a significant portion of the investors who’ve come through the offering.
Eve: [00:13:52] Yeh, yeh. Well, that’s really good to hear. That’s what I hope will happen. So, when when someone invests 100 dollars, what do they get?
Max: [00:13:59] Anyone who invests into the offering becomes a shareholder in the company that ultimately owns the portfolio properties. And so, you know, people who become shareholders, they own shares in NICO Echo Park Benefit Corp. And what accrues to them are, you know, sort of the pro-rata profit and appreciation that we expect to generate as long-term owners of these properties. And I’ll also say that, you know, one question that comes up a lot is people want to know whether investing in this means they own a specific unit or a specific property. You know, the answer to that is, is no. They become a shareholder in the whole portfolio and the portfolio, you know, we expect to grow it pretty substantially over time. So, it’s not just investing into the properties that we own today. It’s also investing into the company that will own additional real estate assets within the neighborhood, as we grow it.
Eve: [00:14:56] So, they’re really in it with you. And that’s a pretty big responsibility for you, I imagine. That’s how it feels.
Max: [00:15:02] We view it as a big responsibility, you know. And I would say the big responsibility is sort of two-fold, I should say, at least two-fold. One is, when you take investor capital, you know, they’re trusting you to make decisions on their behalf, you know, and be stewards of that capital. So, I’d say that’s one level of responsibility that we view. And I would say the other, you know, sort of major level is this approach to neighborhood investment through a benefit corporation structure, through a neighborhood REIT, this is really the first of its kind, right? In a lot of ways. And so, you know, we have a responsibility to be incredibly thoughtful and understand, you know, the context that we’re coming into and, you know, in the neighborhoods where we’ll be active in pursuing this model, and I think we’ve set a very high bar for ourselves, right? We’ve set …
Eve: [00:15:55] Yes.
Max: [00:15:55] … a bar where, you know, we are trying to balance financial returns to our shareholders. And we believe that the market-oriented solutions are an important part of, you know, what moving through this pain that so many people are in around housing in their community. We think more market-oriented solutions are a big part of that solve, and that balancing, you know, it’s going to take some time to get right, right? And I think that we have sort of designed our, our impact framework and our product in a way that is intended to evolve with stakeholder input over time, right? So, we aren’t making a claim that, hey, this is what it is and we’re going to get it exactly right. I think we built it in a way that gives it space to evolve into what it needs to be in response to, you know, stakeholder input and feedback and sort of our community over time. And balancing all those things will be a challenge, you know, but that’s the challenge that we’ve signed up for and that’s the future that we’re trying to create.
Eve: [00:16:57] Yeah, I mean, we have non-accredited investors as well on Small Change and I sometimes think that one needs to feel even more responsible for 100 dollars when it comes from someone who doesn’t have a lot more. It’s maybe more meaningful.
Max: [00:17:13] Yeah
Eve: [00:17:13] I don’t really know how to put it, but that 100 dollars is a stretch for a lot of people. And so, there’s this extra feeling of responsibility around it.
Max: [00:17:23] Yeah, we certainly feel that way.
Eve: [00:17:26] You know, under a Regulation A+ offering, you can, at the moment, raise up to 50 million dollars. Is that right or is it 50 million a year? I can’t remember.
Max: [00:17:34] It’s 50 million per year. Yeh, we can raise up to 50 million per year.
Eve: [00:17:38] And, is that what you hope to raise?
Max: [00:17:41] Yeah, so, you know, to date, we’ve raised, prior to launching the offering, raised about 30 million dollars of real estate, debt and equity capital. We used that to acquire the seed assets. Since launching the offering, we’ve added to that. And I wouldn’t say it’s my expectation that we’re going to raise 50 million dollars, you know, in the first year or two, because I think the nature of the problem that we’re trying to solve, or the problem that we’re trying to be part of solving is, you know, that folks who have been excluded from wealth creation, they don’t have 50 million bucks sitting around, right?
Eve: [00:18:17] Yeh. And it takes a lot of education. I think real estate investment is difficult and requires a lot of education as well. So, it is, it’s hard. Yeh.
Max: [00:18:29] Yes. I would say we hope to make really good use of the offering, but our priority is less about how much money we bring into the offering and more about how many people, specifically how many local investors, are participating in the model. That’s really our, you know, sort of North Star for the next couple of years.
Eve: [00:18:50] So, how long will this offering, or this REIT remain open?
Max: [00:18:55] So, again, I have to be a little careful about what I say with securities law. So, I don’t want to sound evasive. My understanding is that we can keep it open on a rolling, permanent or semi-permanent basis, subject to renewing some of the paperwork. So it’s out intention to basically keep it open.
Eve: [00:19:14] Ok, that’s pretty exciting. So, can you tell me a little bit more about the buildings in the IT and how you’re hoping to expand your portfolio? I heard you say that some or all of them are rent stabilized. Can you expand on that a little bit?
Max: [00:19:31] All of the buildings that we own today are rent stabilized. We’re not limited at the REIT to only investing in rent stabilized buildings, but we like that asset class. We like that type of building a lot. When I say rent stabilized, I’m talking about in the city of Los Angeles, there’s a rent stabilization ordinance, which is a very broad program. Any multifamily buildings, which I think is two or more units that were built prior to 1979, are part of this program, as a default. So, it covers, you know, a significant portion of the multifamily housing stock in the city of Los Angeles. And, you know, what that program currently does is basically puts very strong protections in place for existing tenants, right? And so, the amount that property owners can raise rents on existing tenants is capped at a rate set by the city, for example, and it’s more regulated than market units. So, we really like, you know, those protections. And, you know, we are, as I mentioned earlier, we’re sort of trying to reframe this relationship between, you know, residents and property owners where landlords and tenants, in industry speak, and we love the fact that we can invest in assets where strong protections for tenants are built into the asset price. We sort of love that as an asset class. The buildings themselves, there are three buildings that are all in core Echo Park. We have one at 1650 Echo Park, I have one at 1416 Echo Park, which is a block off the intersection of Echo Park and Sunset. And then we have a property at 1461 Sunset, which is a few blocks down Sunset from Echo Park. So, they’re very proximately located, the portfolio totals 80 residential units and four retail stores, all of which are occupied by locally owned small businesses. And, you know, we are targeting future investments that are rent stabilized, some that are, you know, maybe retail investments, some non-rent stabilized properties, mixed-use properties. And, you know, our investment parameter is sort of, its geographic, like it’s not limited to Echo Park. So, the way the offering describes our investment parameters are, you know, Echo Park, Silver Lake and proximate communities. So, that gives us a bit of room to look …
Eve: [00:21:54] Ok.
Max: [00:21:54] … beyond core Echo Park, though our initial portfolio is very concentrated, you know, historically significant, you know. All of the assets were built in the 19 …. I want to say the 1920s, approximately, though if we’ve got any history buffs on here, there might be, you know, 10 years plus or minus on that. But they’re all sort of very recognizable buildings that have been part of the community for a long time. And, you know, part of what that, coupled with the protections under the RSO program does, it means that the buildings are occupied by a really socio-economically diverse set of residents. And that also is, you know, important to the type of product and community and inclusion that we’re trying to build through our product.
Eve: [00:22:38] So, we have a rent stabilized building. Is it hard to make enough money to cover the expenses? And how do you cope with that? You know, you have pretty lofty goals here in keeping costs reined in is … hard.
Max: [00:22:52] I would say that all of the assets, you know, like asset prices, just, this is more broadly than our building, but asset prices really reflect expected future returns, right. And so all of the properties are comfortably covering their expenses, comfortably covering their debt service. They’re all conservatively financed with long-term fixed-rate debt capital. And the portfolio has been highly occupied since we acquired it. So, you know, we continue to manage to a high level of occupancy. And the pricing of the assets and the way these types of assets are priced and valued is reflective of the protections that are in place. And so, they’re all doing great on a property level.
Eve: [00:23:36] So, I have to say, it’s a lot, and kudos to you. You actually, three companies in one. Real estate development, management company and a crowdfunding platform. And that’s a lot.
Max: [00:23:48] Well, I would say that we’re not really a real estate developer. So, you know, we won’t do, as we’re currently set up now and under the terms of the offering, you know, we’re really not set up to do ground up development or to do even substantial renovations.
Eve: [00:24:03] Well, real estate owner, then, which is different than property manager.
Max: [00:24:07] That’s true. Yes. So, we’re really an asset manager, a property manager. And then we have, you know, the offering and the sort of capabilities that go with managing that type of property.
Eve: [00:24:17] Yeh. So, how do you hope to scale?
Max: [00:24:22] Yeh, so we have ambitious goals for this company, and I would say that, you know, we hope to be doing sort of regular acquisitions into NICO Echo Park over the next number of years. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like from a number of units or a capital investment standpoint, but we believe that this neighborhood, you know, has the opportunity to grow pretty substantially and to grow our impact and grow, you know, the model. And then, you know, separate apart from that, we’re actually in a in sort of a fourth line of business, which is, we have a non-real estate owning sponsor company, which actually owns sort of the functions that you outlined before. And through our structure, you know, we seek and expect to be launching additional neighborhood REITS in other neighborhoods around the country, probably starting next year.
Eve: [00:25:15] Wow. Okay, big goals. So, what’s the biggest challenge you’ve had?
Max: [00:25:22] It’s a great question. I mean, running a company through a pandemic has certainly been challenging …
Eve: [00:25:28] Oh yeh.
Max: [00:25:28] ,,, Having a team that is, you know, very much in sort of the formation phase and, you know, team building phase have to go remote and get to know each other over Zoom, you know. We have team members who have not met in person. People who have joined our team since the pandemic started. And so, I think that’s a challenge. And I think the other, I would say the sort of more macro challenge is that what we’re doing is a bit counterintuitive, right? It’s on a populist level, it’s a bit counterintuitive. And so, what I mean by that is to say that the relationship that we are trying to realign, you know, at its core is really kind of the relationship between investment capital and what motivates it and how it defines success, with people in communities like Echo Park who’ve had a pretty negative relationship with investment capital, right? Because they’ve been excluded from it. And it’s come in and I think the perception, which I believe is largely, you know, accurate, is that when capital comes in it typically means that there is risk to me as a long-time resident. Risk to me and risk to my neighbors as long-term residents. And so, I think that trying to start to solve some of these issues through being an investment company, I think that’s a bit of a barrier for people to get over. And I think that’s pretty fair and pretty deserved. But, you know, our model is such that we’re really sort of taking that on, and, you know, I think the great sort of untold story of gentrification and neighborhood change is that real estate, you know, really was not an institutional mainstream institutional asset class 20, 25 years ago, right? And now it is.
Eve: [00:27:19] Yes.
Max: [00:27:19] It’s a big part of the allocation. And so, I don’t think that capital is the only sort of factor. I think the housing shortages is also one. And I think, you know, there’s a lot of other ones. But, you know, the pressure that that huge, organized flow of capital has put on, you know, neighborhoods like Echo Park is really hard to understate. And so, to our view, to NICO’s view and to our theory of change, until that powerful, large flow of investment capital can be realigned to actually be viewed as a tool and a resource for stabilizing communities, and including folks who are previously excluded in the wealth that’s created through that investment, we’re not going to be able to really solve, you know, these issues at a level, right? And so, I think it’s a bit of a counterintuitive move for people who are used to viewing investment capital or a company or an investment company in a specific way, which is this feels like a threat to me and my neighbors, into something where this offering and this way of being can actually help to stabilize this community and help to drive the types of outcomes that are important to me, you know, in my own community.
Eve: [00:28:41] Yeah.
Max: [00:28:41] I think that’s sort of a lot to get your head around. And we understand that that will take time. And where the rubber hits the road is sort of our actions and the way that we’re managing this portfolio and balancing our various priorities. You know, are we doing that in a way that is genuine and, you know, sort of worthy of people’s trust, right? And that’ll take some time to to earn that, and that’s part of our journey here.
Eve: [00:29:08] Yes, yeh. You know, just shifting gears a little bit, are there any other current trends or innovations in real estate that you think are really important to the future of cities or be a future of housing?
Max: [00:29:21] I think that the sort of renewed focus now on the equity or dis-equity that’s built into the public realm, and also into the sort of planning process …
Eve: [00:29:32] Yes, yeh. I’ve been watching that. It’s interesting.
Max: [00:29:35] I think that conversation is super-exciting and has the opportunity to really reframe how people and how communities are able to have agency in terms of what happens within their community. I think public projects, public space projects, development projects, you know, we’re certainly seeing and starting to feel within the sort of the real estate industry the pressure that comes with that, you know. And I think there’s a genuine attempt by, you know, more and more private sector actors to take that seriously, and to legitimately and earnestly try and figure out how to be engaged with the community and to, beyond just sort of the tokenism of, hey, we’ll throw in a garden, have a couple of feedback meetings or something like that, like I think there’s sort of the start of a groundswell of, you know, we need to build equity into how we think about …
Eve: [00:30:35] Right.
[00:30:35] … development in the public realm. I think that’s super-interesting and very important. And I hope we can play a role in that. And then I think things like technology that is helping to create more efficient, less expensive, quicker ways to actually generate, you know, new housing. You know, there’s no path out of this housing crisis that doesn’t come with building a lot more housing. That’s not the business that we’re in. But I think that construction is super-painful, and it’s sort of in the Stone Age, right? In terms of how that process actually works on a deal level. And so, I think anything that makes that process, you know, more transparent, more noble and less risky, more scalable, will help to create a lot more housing. So, I’m very excited about that.
Eve: [00:31:22] Yeh.
Max: [00:31:22] And I would also say that the sort of, you know, more broadly, shift in focus by institutions and family offices and, you know, other sort of sources of that mainstream real estate investment capital toward strategies that are legitimately ESG strategies or impact strategies, I think that is super-exciting and very important. And for us, we always come back to what is that relationship between capital and what capital is seeking to do, and how is that aligned with the financial and non-financial impact of communities and people in communities, right? And so, I think that shift in awareness and that shift in priority towards strategies that are legitimately focused on ESG and impact, I think that’s a great first step in starting to reframe that relationship at scale.
Eve: [00:32:18] Yeah, because in the end, without shifting capital, not much is going to happen.
Max: [00:32:25] Right. And if you think about affordable housing as a, as an example of this, like, we’re pro affordable housing, you know, but the structural limitation of subsidized affordable housing …
Eve: [00:32:38] It’s huge.
Max: [00:32:38] … is that it requires a subsidy, right? And so, like, the subsidy that it requires is limited. Right? And therefore, there’s only so many tax credits that go out every year.
Eve: [00:32:50] And it’s time consuming. It doesn’t let you produce affordable housing fast, which we need to do.
Max: [00:32:56] Yeah, exactly. And so, we come to this place and NICO is really built around this theory of change, that until market forces of capital, right? Until market rate capital, which is a huge, you know, effectively it’s an infinite pool when you think about how the capital gets recycled, until the priorities of that change, and until the structures around that change to be focused on delivering financial returns and acknowledging the non-financial impact that that capital has. Until that happens, the scale of any potential solutions that count on subsidy or philanthropy, which is a form of subsidy, it’s, the scale of that potential impact is just limited when you look at the scale of the market.
Eve: [00:33:44] Yup.
Max: [00:33:44] So, we’re excited to start to see that shift a little bit.
Eve: [00:33:49] Well, this is something that’s been really interesting, and I’ve really enjoyed learning about NICO, and I’m especially looking forward to see what comes next. So, thank you very much for joining me.
Max: [00:33:59] Great. Thank you so much, Eve. And thank you also for all the work you’ve done over the years with Small Change, with impact real estate. We’re huge fans of it and very appreciative for your leadership in our nascent industry.
Eve: [00:34:24] That was Max Levine. His life is focused on building equity through real estate. With NICO, he’s working to bridge the gap between those who own assets and those who don’t. If you live in Echo Park, you can invest in Echo Park, and what you invest in will ensure that the neighborhood remains available to everyone. For everyone. NICO’s first three buildings are rent stabilized. It’s a very big goal and Max is chipping away at it.
Eve: [00:35:05] You can find out more about impact real estate investing and access the show notes for today’s episode at my website, EvePicker.com. 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 your time with me today. And thank you, Max, for sharing your thoughts. We’ll talk again soon. But for now, this is Eve Picker signing off to go make some change.
Image courtesy of Max Levine/NICO Benefit Corp.