By The Grio Staff

As the head of the largest Black-owned real estate development company in the U.S., Don Peebles takes his role seriously.

The chairman and chief executive of the Peebles Corporation, which has a portfolio worth $8 billion, has set out to challenge the barriers that Black people continue to face in the development space.

From his perch, Peebles can see the unfairness that continues to face Blacks who want to make it in the development space. For example, of the 116,242 licensed architects in the US, just 2% (roughly 2,300) are Black.

The Urban Land Institute, an organization of real estate and land use experts, has noted just 5% of its members are Black.

That reality helps give Peebles a purpose.

“I’m not just a businessperson,” he said. “I’m a Black businessperson. And that comes with a sense of responsibility.”

Peebles has proposed building Affirmation Tower, a massive skyscraper planned for New York City that would be built by a team that’s 80% Black. Designed at 1,663 feet, it stands to be the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere and would house office space for the Mid-Manhattan chapter of the NAACP.

The tower project is on hold, however, after New York state pulled the Request for Proposal to determine whether an affordable housing component needs to be added to the plan.

Peebles maintains a housing component doesn’t belong at a site across from the Jacob Javits Center, one of the largest convention centers in the country. But he also believes systematic racism played a part in the discussion to pull the RFP.

There’s no timeframe on when a new RFP will be issued, though Peebles intends to resubmit a bid.

Peebles talked to TheGrio about a number of issues, including barriers to entry, his commitment to “affirmative development.”

The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What are the barriers to entry?

The biggest impediment to opportunity is that there’s no access through the development community. The developers make the decisions on who they hire, who they engage with in projects. If you don’t have any diversity at the top level, then you don’t get diversity elsewhere.

The people hire who they know or are comfortable with. And so if you have white men who make up 99% of the large commercial real estate developers, then you can understand why you won’t see much diversity on the architectural side. And then on top of it all, because there are very few Black architects, you’ve got to be proactive and take affirmative steps to go in, identify them and find them. If that’s not important to you, then you’re not going to do it.

Credit: The Grio