Jan. 28, 2016 by Gilbert Gerst, Senior Vice President, BOK Financial

Loans that Build Community

You might think that innovation in real estate is limited to energy efficiency, faster elevators and better amenities. But for The Real Estate Council, which just celebrated 25 years of leading North Texas’ commercial real estate industry, innovation also means finding better ways to serve those in need. It means finding ways to make lasting change.

For more than 23 years, TREC Foundation has provided grants and donated thousands of hours of expertise, such as design or architectural skills, to almost 100 local nonprofits. The model is unique. No other industry group serves its community in this way. In 2015 alone, TREC Foundation worked with 55 organizations serving 327,000 individuals with $275,000 in grants and more than 2,000 hours of pro bono professional services.

Most recent efforts extend to a social enterprise called The Real Estate Council Community Fund, a U.S. Treasury certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). CDFIs are not new and there are a few that work in Dallas doing small business loans and microenterprise. But TREC Community Fund makes loans for real estate projects to nonprofits and for-profits working in low-income areas.

As a community development banker, I know lending in these tracts is hard. Valuations are difficult and regulations are stringent. But CDFIs like TREC Community Fund have the ability to support these community development efforts with flexible terms based on things like the need in that community, the track record of the borrower and other sources of funding.

TREC Community Fund charges interest and expects to be repaid just like any other lender. But with 1,700 commercial real estate professionals who donate their time and expertise, TREC Community Fund is positioned to assess these opportunities quickly and reduce projects costs to make these efforts successful.

TREC Community Fund’s loans have bridged a capital campaign for an indigent clinic, funded renovation of low-income apartments, helped purchase land for a transit-oriented development, and more. Our professionals are working to provide healthy options in a food desert, build affordable homes with local developers, and create reliable revenue for social service providers. This work could not be done without this kind of creative funding or the limitless pool of real estate talent that is supporting it.

“There is a whole underclass of people and of problems, some right here in this city, that are overlooked and undervalued and it’s time we did something about it,” said Casey Gerald at TREC’s most recent Bank of Texas Speaker Series presented by The Dallas Morning News. Gerald is the co-founder and CEO of MBAs Across America, a national movement that deploys MBA students to support entrepreneurs that are creating jobs and changing lives in the communities that need them most.

Gerald shared new rules for creating lasting change and took us on his journey. It is not the how or what, but the why that’s at the heart of that change, making purpose the new bottom line. With 25 years of working in Dallas, TREC has an in-depth perspective on the people doing great work in this community.

While TREC Community Fund is just one way to address our community’s problems, TREC’s purpose is to spark community transformation by partnering with these people and organizations. TREC members bring their gifts to bear, creating exponential results and lasting change in areas of our city that need it most. Innovation can mean lots of things. For TREC, it is bringing the skills, talents and resources of the commercial real estate industry to do the most good in the hardest places through creative solutions.