Real Estate Industry Should Adopt Health, Social Equity Practices

Two new Urban Land Institute reports highlight the need for the real estate industry to promote health and social equity.

Two recent reports by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) highlight the state of the real estate industry’s adoption of health and social equity practices and the need for the industry to greater promote those already in existence.

social equity practicesThe protests for racial justice that spread throughout the United States and beyond during the summer, along with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, have elevated health and social equity as focus areas for real estate practitioners. The companion reports in the Health and Social Equity in Real Estate series, State of the Market and Examples from the Field share data and insights about trends, drivers, and leading approaches.

“Health has become a key area of focus for real estate leaders, including developers and building owners, operators and investors,” said ULI Chief Executive Officer W. Edward Walter. “The pandemic and the protests have illuminated deep structural inequities in society. As a result, the real estate industry is looking beyond the building to promote healthy and more equitable communities and address racial injustice. These reports build on ULI’s work to help to create healthy and socially equitable communities where all people—no matter their income, race or background—can grow, thrive and prosper.”

Health and Social Equity in Real Estate: State of the Market presents a snapshot of real estate professionals’ growing awareness and adoption of practices supporting health and social equity, and identifies opportunities for further inclusion of such practices by real estate organizations. The report presents the first comprehensive and cross-cutting data about the real estate industry’s adoption of health and social equity promoting practices and summarizes research undertaken in 2019 by the Urban Land Institute’s Building Healthy Places Initiative, with support from HR&A Advisors and The Integral Group. It is based on an industry-wide survey with nearly 700 respondents, interviews with 23 industry leaders, workshops, and secondary research.

The report identified ways that the real estate industry could promote social equity, including outreach and engagement to understand community needs and design strategies and development project programs that reflect these needs; displacement mitigation strategies; and actions and policies, such as hiring practices, that support social and economic inclusion. The most frequently adopted planning strategies included those that address transit, walkability, and biking infrastructure and access to nature or open space.

Over the course of 2020, public health and racial equity have become key issues in the national discourse and within the real estate industry. As a result, the trend toward health equity in real estate is expected to accelerate. State of the Market outlines a number of recommendations and opportunities for development, design and consulting firms, to advance the cause of health equity in the real estate industry. These include advocating for adoption of health equity best practices, sharing knowledge and replicating successes, committing to a comprehensive stakeholder engagement process at all stages of planning and development, and broadening the promotion of health to “beyond the building.”

social equity practicesHealth and Social Equity in Real Estate: Examples from the Field looks at developments that have incorporated health and social equity principles into their designs and their policies, and identifies elements of the business case for doing so based on interviews with 44 real estate stakeholders. The report presents findings from research undertaken in 2019 and 2020 by the ULI Greenprint Center for Building Performance. The qualitative value that results from implementing health and social equity practices is not to be overlooked, and is driven from occupant demand, community success, government incentives, competitive branding/marketing, and building certifications. Examples from the Field includes case studies from 17 development projects and companies focused on health, social equity, or a mix of the two.

By demonstrating what companies have already achieved at their properties, and their motivations for doing so, Examples from the Field aims to accelerate the uptake of health and social equity initiatives in commercial real estate portfolios market-wide. The report also identifies a number of tools, calculators, resources, and partnership groups for commercial real estate stakeholders interested in deepening their firms’ commitment and strategic alignment with health and social equity initiatives.

Three notable development projects with successful commitments to health and social equity are:

  • The Renaissance, Charlotte, NC: a mixed-income residential complex developed by Laurel Street on behalf of the Charlotte Housing Authority, was built through public-private partnerships and offers increased financial stability for residents, educational integration of students from early childhood and pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, and promotion of active living. With the understanding that social equity must be achieved through a multifaceted approach, Renaissance West Community Initiative (RWCI) was created as a nonprofit community to promote the most equitable living environment for its residents over the lifetime of the development.
  • Freedom Plaza, Watts, Los Angeles, CA: developed by Primestor, this pedestrian-oriented community offers not only a number of businesses that employ local residents but also sustainable building methods such as drought-tolerant landscaping and contemporary architecture. The large open-air center allows for spaces for live performances and is decorated by two murals, vetted and approved by the community. The property also sits at a transit hub to offer local residents and visitors ample public transportation options. Businesses within Freedom Plaza have also hired local residents as an extra form of equity in a community that is 85 percent Latino and 14 percent Black.
  • Prologis Park Tacoma Building D, Tacoma, WA: Prologis, a global leader in logistics real estate, is actively working to integrate health and social equity into its industrial and warehouse spaces. Prologis is working to train and mentor a new generation of logistics workers, and provide healthy warehouse buildings for them to work in. Under WELL’s warehouse pilot program, Prologis designed Prologis Park Tacoma, Building D with features to integrate occupant health and wellness, including sustainable design elements, insulation, ventilation and natural light, an outdoor walking trail for break use, a learning garden with a blueberry patch to promote healthy eating and a collection of eight murals painted by a local artist. Along with this, in 2018 Prologis launched the Community Workforce Initiative (CWI) in Los Angeles to provide job opportunities and career pipelines to disadvantaged groups. They have since expanded the program to additional cities across America with a goal to train 25,000 individuals by 2025.

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