Alicia Glen’s Vision For Affordable Housing

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Alicia Glen is leveraging her expertise as former deputy mayor of New York City and head of the Urban Investment Group at Goldman Sachs to build MSquared into a significant women-owned real estate development firm focused on affordable housing. MSquared has raised over $200 million in three years—a feat few women have achieved.

Affordable housing is a women’s issue. Women face greater challenges than men in finding affordable housing, which impacts their economic security and well-being. The reasons include the gender pay gap, single parenthood, domestic violence, and homelessness. Providing women with affordable housing makes them more likely to secure stable employment, improve their overall health outcomes, and give their children a better start in life.

Glen’s focus on bringing more capital to build mixed-income and mixed-use projects addresses the housing crisis and breaks barriers for women and minorities in the field.

Sexism Is Alive And Well In Real Estate Development

Women represent more than 50% of the U.S. adult population. Yet, according to Knight Diversity of Asset Managers Research series, they own 2.8% of real estate funds and have 1.7% of assets under management. Firms owned by women perform equally as well as those owned by men.

While it is heartening that Glen has surpassed $200 million AUM, men with equal experience would have raised much more. “I know how hard it was for me to raise, but it would have taken my male counterpart two phone calls,” she said. “If you’re a young woman who’s super smart, trying to raise capital, and you don’t have the kind of long-form resume I have, I can’t even imagine how hard that is.”

One of Glen’s goals is to inspire other women and people of color to start real estate investment funds. She’s not alone. Deborah Harmon and Penny Pritzker began blazing the trail in 2009 when they cofounded Artemis Real Estate Partners and are also trying to be role models, too.

Research in an adjacent sector—venture capital—reveals women and POC face both challenges and opportunities. Limited partners—institutional investors investing in funds—increasingly focus on experienced fund managers. Most women and POC are emerging managers. They are raising their first three funds. Yet research finds that 72% of top-performing VC funds are emerging managers, so women and POC funds are a good bet.

Women represent 37% of the commercial real estate workforce, according to the 2020 CREW Network Benchmark Study: Gender and Diversity in Commercial Real Estate. Systemic barriers that women face include being paid and promoted less. These gaps have a cumulative impact on their ability to launch funds.

“It’s absolutely astonishing how underrepresented women are [in real estate fund ownership],” said Glen. “Women don’t control capital, and they don’t build buildings [in cities].”

After being Deputy Mayor of NYC, Glen took some time off to determine what she would do next.

Thriving Cities Depend On Affordability, Sustainability, And Diversity

Glen grew up on the Upper West Side, where there were public housing projects, Mitchell-Lama cooperative housing for moderate- and middle-income families, and brownstones for upper-income families. Everyone went to the same public schools, had access to Central and Riverside parks, and attended after-school activities at Goddard Riverside and Head Start.

“I grew up in a neighborhood where I wasn’t scared of Black and Hispanic people,” she said. Black, Brown, and white kids went to school together and played together. “I lived on Central Park West, but my parents were public sector employees,” Glen said.

Strong communities are a women’s issue. The well-being of women and girls heavily depends on their access to safe, affordable, and integrated housing. Unfortunately, despite being the heads of 75% of households that receive HUD—Department of Housing and Urban Development—rental assistance, only one out of four eligible women gets this support. This disparity leaves millions of women, especially those from marginalized communities, struggling to secure basic shelter for themselves and their families. Ensuring fair access to affordable and accessible housing is crucial in combating economic insecurity among women.

“Everybody bitches and moans about how there are no women in the real estate business,” said Glen. So, she decided to put her money where her mouth was and launch a real estate development and investment platform focused on mixed-income and mixed-use projects that promote affordability, sustainability, and diversity.

“I have devoted my career to making cities better places to live. I have developed a real sense of what good cities look like and what kind of development we need to continue to make them grow and thrive in a way that makes them diverse, fun, interesting, and prosperous.”

Glen is determined to raise significant money and partner with women developers. To date, MSquared has raised over $200 million. Investors across three funds include Capricorn Investment Group’s Sustainable Investors Fund, Citibank, Ford Foundation, Goldman Sachs, the Skoll Foundation, Trinity Church Wall Street, and Wells Fargo (WFC).

Like women seeking venture capital, women-owned real estate funds lack access to institutional investors such as pension funds, insurance companies, endowment funds, mutual funds, hedge funds, banks, family offices, and sovereign wealth funds.

However, unlike venture capital, real estate is a more capital-intensive business. The owners must put in two and a half percent of the fund. “So you have to also either have made some money or be able to convince your friends and family to support you,” said Glen. “Women don’t have that kind of friends and family network.”

A key to Glen’s success is that she is relentless but has a sense of humor. “You just have to keep going,” said Glen. “You also have to be able to have a sense of humor, or else you will become angry and discouraged.

How will you change the game for women?

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