Over the last several years, one can’t help but notice the uptick of interest and investment in various Black and Brown South Los Angeles communities, all to the tune of several hundred million dollars. The plot thickens when one recognizes this has all been at the behest of White developers, investors, and commercial real estate teams. It begs us to ask a few questions: Which interests are performing as gatekeepers during these transactions while indirectly siphoning funds from the community? Where is the oversight to ensure no singular interest monopolizes it all? And finally, who is being negatively impacted by all this, paying the ultimate cost?
In The Building LA has been keeping a watchful eye, ensuring that the people who have lived in South Los Angeles for decades can benefit from these once-in-a-generation investments coming into the community today. “We want more people to benefit from ownership and take advantage of the opportunity that all of this investment brings,” explained Matthew Gates, Founder and CEO of In The Building LA. “We want people to be informed about the changes and proactive about the solutions and things they would like to see.”
Founded in 2018 by commercial real estate agent Matthew Gates, In The Building LA is a digital media company based in South Los Angeles that focuses on the relationship between the community and the real estate industry. Gates believes that real estate not only has the potential to create transformative wealth for Black and Brown communities but to literally change the way they experience daily life. At its core, In the Building is a storyteller - through the edutainment platform, Gates shares impactful information and resources for local communities to leverage. “Right now, there's a real knowledge gap on the developer side, where investors and developers have no idea about the wants, needs, and desires of the community. On the flip side, the community is not only uninformed about the changes that are taking place but also not aware of their ability to influence the direction that the community is going. We are changing that.”
Gates got his start as a commercial real estate realtor, where he noticed glaring disparities early on within the industry. “It is a very White, male-centered space and probably one of the least diverse industries. [Real estate] literally impacts every aspect of our daily life. It is also an extremely lucrative, profitable way to earn a living.” Spending countless hours reviewing listings, news articles, and neighborhood offerings, Gates quickly learned the ropes and the key players in the playing field. “The lack of information, coupled with discrimination in the real estate practices of those who are in the industry, was costing people in the community hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in some cases.” Finally, he couldn’t shake the frustration he felt from his talented colleagues not getting the respect they had earned. “I really wanted to create a platform that highlighted the expertise of the brilliant, hardworking, experienced, commercial real estate professionals who come from the community so that we could encourage more people to get into the industry.” He decided to do something about it.
As CEO of In The Building LA, Gates has worn many hats since the initial 2018 launch. Whether it be securing investments, finding advertising partners, writing content, scouting events, and hiring staff, he has done a bit of everything for the early-stage startup. “My job is to provide the strategic direction for the brand and find talented people to help bring that vision to life.” At the time, industry publications were not focused on South LA or Inglewood, nor were they highlighting the brilliant Black professionals Gates worked with every day. “I identify the need, where the opportunities are, and find the gaps in the real estate information that is out there. From there, I figure out the best way to reach the community.”
Gates understands how the system is rigged, fighting tirelessly to counteract the damage. “The percentage of appraisers who are Black is around 4%. The percentage of architects who are Black is around 2%. Urban planners, brokers, asset managers, investment managers, it's all kind of about the same and it is these companies who make decisions about the way land is going to be used and which projects bring the highest and best use to a community. ” Gates paused thoughtfully before continuing, “A lot of times, you have development companies and investors using a cookie-cutter approach based on the experiences they've had in other markets. They bring them to Black and Brown communities with a top-down approach, telling those communities ‘This is what we're going to build!’ without any real meaningful engagement.”
Up until now, In The Building LA has been concentrated on awareness. Moving into 2024 the focus will shift to community engagement. “Whether that's working with small businesses to help them acquire real estate or helping to shine a spotlight on some of the really amazing nonprofits and amazing businesses that are out there, we are helping people tap into employment and investment in ownership opportunities in the community.” He summarizes, “We will be much more active, much more public, in the ways that we go about trying to share that information.”
Upon reflecting on the journey, Gates is proud of the strides that have been made. “It has truly been a team effort, and I’m incredibly grateful for everyone that has contributed to our growth over the years,” He continued. “We're very open to partnership – whether that be appraisers, architects, labor organizations, or workforce development – and we're in a position to really add value to businesses or entities out here in the community. Reach out to us. And for community members, please share with us the type of information you’d like to see.”