International commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) revealed Friday that it is pulling its support of an upcoming industry conference due to a lack of diversity among the event’s speakers.
The New York Multifamily Summit is scheduled to take place on Oct. 31 in Manhattan. Up until Friday, Bob Knakal, chairman of New York investment at JLL, had been scheduled to give the keynote speech and to moderate a panel at the event. The branding for the summit also announced that it was “powered by” events company GreenPearl but presented by JLL, which manages 4.6 billion square feet of property around the world.
However, Friday evening a spokesperson for JLL told Inman in an emailed statement that the company was no longer supporting the gathering.
“JLL is pulling its sponsorship of GreenPearl’s upcoming New York Multifamily Summit because of the absence of a diverse group of speakers at the event,” the statement explained.
By Friday evening, the summit’s website also no longer mentioned Knakal, or any keynote speaker for that matter, and references to JLL had been removed.
Concerns about diversity at the multifamily event arose earlier this week. On Thursday, Thomas Lopez-Pierre, a former New York City council candidate who runs a real estate investment firm (and who has himself courted controversy in the past) tweeted that the event lineup included “no black speakers.” Lopez-Pierre told Inman that he also messaged everyone on his email list about the event. He added that his email management system indicated the message was forwarded thousands of times.
The controversy over diversity at the summit was further complicated by the fact that it bills itself as, among other things, an opportunity to discuss multifamily real estate investment in “less densely populated areas in New York City such as the Bronx, Yonkers, Newark and Westchester.”
But some of those areas have large historic black communities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, for example, Newark, New Jersey, is more than 50 percent black and only a quarter white.
The Bronx is more than 43 percent black and just under 45 percent white, according to the U.S. Census. Yonkers and Westchester are both predominately white, but at more than 17 percent and 16 percent black, respectively, still have sizable African American communities.
The list of speakers appearing at the multifamily summit does include several individuals whose ancestry lies outside of Europe. For example, Niraj Shah, founder of online retailer Wayfair and the son of Indian immigrants, is currently scheduled to appear at the event.
However, the apparent lack of any black speakers meant that a mostly white group of development experts would be converging to discuss how to profit from investment in black communities.
Donnell Williams, president of African American trade group the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), said Friday that it is not uncommon for black real estate professionals to be excluded from industry events like the upcoming summit.
“We don’t get looked at,” he told Inman. “We have Realtors sitting in New York City that were not invited.”
Williams also said that many neighborhoods in the New York area are facing issues related to gentrification, which is exacerbated by a racial wealth gap and developers who have zeroed in on minority communities.
“That happens all the time,” he added.
GreenPearl, the company organizing the multifamily summit, did not immediately respond to Inman’s request for additional information Friday, and it was not clear if any other changes to the lineup were in the works after JLL dropped out.
However, speaking to Inman, Lopez-Pierre argued that inclusion in industry events matters.
“This is about economics,” he said, “but we’re not being invited to participate.”