Vigilance

Vigilance

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” – attributed to Thomas Jefferson

Freedom has been taken from too many people. Blaggards take liberty because good people are silent, disorganized or apathetic. Protecting our systems requires that those who value community, inclusion and creativity are more effective than those who seek profit, self-aggrandizement and destruction. “Transforming our cities for a better urban future” was the theme of UN-Habitat’s World Urban Forum 11 in Katowice, Poland held in late June. In spite of all the crises surrounding the Spodek Arena, those who believe in the power of the commons gathered in harmony and optimism.

I followed the affordable housing track and was both frustrated and pleased. Frustrated that many of the presentations were the exact same as in 2016, 2018 and 2020 – “we just don’t have the data we need to finance more affordable housing;” “conflicting government policies are holding production back;” development agencies providing reams of analysis of the problem and little in the way of solutions.

Pleased that once again women were the lodestars on this journey. Claudia López Hernández is the first openly lesbian Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia. At the start of her term in 2020, the epidemiologists told her that her city would lose 60,000 people to COVID-19 within 6 months. There was nothing she could do. Only 24,000 people have died in Bogotá from COVID. She marshalled the resources and most importantly public morale. She has increased affordable housing during the pandemic and built more hospitals and clinics.

Célestine Ketcha Courtès, Minister of Housing & Urban Development, Cameroon was previously Mayor of Bangangté and urged the African gate keepers to listen to the needs of their people and open the gates. UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif was Mayor of Penang, Malaysia and insisted that everyone submit written Declared Actions on what they were going to do the meet the moment.

I facilitated a session in the Urban Library where Budiarsa Sastrawinata, Managing Director of Ciputra Group in Indonesia presented the Transit-Oriented Development project Citra Maja Raya, a city-scale development concept that is affordable, inclusive and resilient. Sharon Young, Global Housing Foundation President, presented the organization’s work to develop workforce housing in Latin America and Carla Gautier Castro, Founder & CEO of KONTi Design|Build Studio explained how unused shipping containers are plentiful around the world and can be repurposed to create disaster-proof, safe homes with structural longevity and minimal environmental impact.

In the reborn coal mining town, now a center of culture including the Polish National Radio Symphony Hall, an efficient tram system and swing dancing each evening in the town square; I found a laboratory of how to transform today’s urban challenges into a stronger and more collaborative city. Our Declared Action is to work together to design, develop and build a prototype community in Puerto Rico using the solutions showcased in the event.

In these anxious times, we must keep watch and be ready to once again fight for equal opportunity for everyone.

Powerhouse

Think about all those women at the market and all those little baskets dumping into bigger baskets at just one market. Still banks won’t lend. They have a misperception of the risk.

Colleague on why women still can’t access loans in West Africa.

Women in Nigeria come home from roadside stalls, community markets and other informal work with small baskets of money. In October, I was in West Africa engaged in dialogues about how to help women access credit to buy their own properties. During lunch, a colleague shared the above anecdote about how he remembers seeing his aunt come home with this small basket of money and dump it into a larger basket. His family members knew that if they ever needed money in an emergency, they could, with much convincing, get it from his aunt.

Over the last several years, the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and World Citizen Consulting have been working with in-country partners to create and update the Nigeria Property Markets Scorecard. The Scorecard is a systems analysis tool that can be used by business associations, policy analysts, government advisors, and advocates to better understand property market conditions, evaluate risks, and identify key areas for reform.

The International Real Estate Federation of Nigeria (FIABCI-Nigeria) has worked with its team to gather inputs from the public, private, and estate surveying and valuation sectors to validate online research and overall market conditions. CIPE and World Citizen Consulting are also working with the Association of Nigerian Women Business Network (ANWBN) to use the Scorecard to evaluate the status for women and suggest a plan of action that will lead to reforms that enable more women to participate in property markets. During consultations with ANWBN members, it was clear that problems accessing credit also extend to women in the formal sector.

Women are advised by landlords to get a man to rent a store for them. They can lose any rights to jointly purchased and developed property when their husband marries another woman and she has his son since tradition holds that property is passed down only to sons. Without property as collateral, a woman cannot approach a bank for a loan to grow her successful business.

The conclusion of using the Scorecard Methodology in Nigeria was that the current property rights system in Nigeria is overly complex and limiting, especially for women, and does not allow them to sufficiently advance socially, financially and in business. The follow-on effect of this inequality in land rights severely limits opportunities for all Nigerians. While the Constitution guarantees everyone equal access to property, many courts do not support the equal redistribution of property at divorce and often act as bottlenecks for settling any property related claims.

As a result of the Scorecard project, ANWBN plans to launch information and advocacy campaigns around property rights and access to credit. The first step will be to educate the 63 member organizations and their individual members on existing laws and policies, the current inequities and their consequences for women-owned businesses and thus overall economic growth. Business advocacy campaigns will then be developed targeting key stakeholders on the need for and benefits of expanding property rights for women and removing current obstacles. ANWBN also intends to develop an advocacy program on expanding alternative credit programs such as peer-to-peer lending, women’s savings groups, seed-funding and angel investing.

The full inclusion of women in property markets can make Nigeria an economic powerhouse. Women make up half the population, yet remain locked out of participating in many sectors due to outdated cultural definitions of the role of women in many regions. As Nigeria continues to develop and lead the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the time is right to open the doors for more women to bring their stamina, ingenuity, and skills to the fore and benefit all Nigerians by informing them of their right to participate in property markets and gain access to credit to grow their businesses and influence.

Imagine the women at the market in the future. They have documented their transactions and pooled their money to improve the conditions at the market. With their increased revenues, they have helped build a home for a beloved widow. They have caught the attention and respect of a local banker and paid back their first small loan. Their excitement about what to do with their next, larger loan is as palpable as the patterns and colors on their dresses.

Resilience

A good half of the art of living is resilience.” ― Alain de Botton

Traveling in Africa during our reset, I was reminded of how resilient we are. Poked and prodded every step of the way, I nevertheless persisted and was rewarded with the gift of compassion. On my third trip to West Africa, I was once again impressed by the ability of Africans to improvise, to believe in a better future and to treat each other with kindness.

Ten years ago, I helped found the Ghana Real Estate Professionals Association. We have been working over this time to help bring clarity and rationality to the property markets and this Africa Real Estate Conference & Expo was a celebration of the incremental progress made. Government officials, investment analysts, attorneys and financiers joined the maturing property professionals to set down a marker and prepare for the work ahead to bring more direct foreign investment to Ghana, especially outside the traditional extractive industries that have exploited the land for centuries.

On this trip I was able to visit the first cocoa tree that survived in Ghana. Planted in 1879 by native blacksmith Tetteh Quarshie, this tree survived where those brought by the colonizing Dutch and Swiss did not and is still producing Ghana’s major cash crop. Even today most of the cocoa is exported for processing into chocolate products. On the back of the box of “Specially Selected Belgian Seashells” we received for the holiday this year it says: “While enjoying this product, you contribute to a brighter future for cocoa farming communities in Ghana.” Helping local entrepreneurs develop large scale production facilities is an even better idea.

I was also able to visit the government’s Centre for Plant Medicine Research where extracts from nauclea latifolia – the African pincushion tree – traditionally used to treat malaria are proving to be effect in treating COVID.

We have to make more of what we have and stop this endless pursuit of attention and profit. How many more of our brothers are we willing to sacrifice? How much longer are we going to sideline our sisters and the solutions they can naturally bring to our crises? I am going back to Africa. I am absolutely confident in the resilience of the human spirit. I know that this moment is the inflection point and we will look back and be thankful we changed our destructive direction.

Silk

Who speaks a little knows a lot, and when he speaks, it is with great thought.” ― Uzbek Proverb

Xi’an was the eastern gate to the historic silk route in China. I visited this portal in 2007. In May I visited the midway point and crossroads in Samarkand. As an invited speaker for the Central Asia Commercial Real Estate Forum in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to get back to travelling to promote transparent property markets and take a side trip to see the apex of where goods and cultures were traded for more than 1,000 years.

Consultants at that time were networks of middlemen who facilitated the flow of silk, spices and fruits with different caravans and at multiple markets along the way. Even today while waiting for my luggage, crates of fresh fruit came trundling down the belt. Open air markets still surrounded the historic mosques. A World Folk Music Festival is still held at the Registan, the public square surrounded by three refurbished madrasas, the first to originally teach astronomy and mathematics, the second to teach philosophy and poetry, and the third to teach the Qur’an. I was intrigued by neatly stacked piles of chairs for the concerts hidden in various places around this famous tourist site.

At the Forum, I networked with the current middlemen and women who are facilitating the flow of capital from Russia and Turkey into commercial real estate projects. Many massive luxury residential projects are attracting investment while soviet era housing blocks huddle down the side streets. There was still a sense of the great frontier among the participants. I urged everyone to also focus on transforming existing structures and expanding the market to include housing and opportunities for all.

China is working on a new silk route. After forty years of geopolitical philandering in the region, including yet another failure to impose structure, we must abandon the policy of imposition and embrace a strategy of engagement with the people and entrepreneurs who have been sidelined. They have always known how to survive and prosper in a harsh environment. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are safe, growing hubs in the region with a young, educated population eager to embrace change and grow their economies and help stabilize the region.

The elements of a new exchange of culture and commerce lie in wait like the chairs stored at the Registan. With the right support, private sector and civil society partners can bring business integrity and good governance to the region to increase transparent capital flow so that these societies can support themselves. The old silk overland route was replaced by sea routes and colonization. Colonization was followed by the military-industrial complex. Amidst multiple crises, let’s set a new course and a new paradigm for Central Asia and the world.

Invest

Opportunistic investors are willing to accept more risk in the anticipation of a higher return. Traditional institutional investors want secure properties with transparent data on occupancy rates, cash flows and operating costs.

A typical pension fund manager looks for stable properties, invests for 10- to 20 years and is happy with a 3- to 5% return. Opportunistic investors take on more risk for shorter periods and seek much higher returns. A portfolio manager looking to diversify a small portion of a client’s capital might look to invest in a less transparent market for a 3- to 5-year period with the expectation of a 20% or more return.

The International Property Markets Scorecard is a tool that can be used by opportunistic investors in markets where there is very little transparent market data. The Scorecard lays out the strengths of the institutional support for property markets in a country. It can be used as a proxy for making emerging market investment decisions when there is not enough trusted data on transactions. The Scorecard is currently being used, among others, as a part of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) project on increasing international trade in the Balkans.

Upper-Middle Income Economies as defined by the World Bank are excellent targets for opportunistic investors as these countries have relative political stability, a growing middle class, developing professional services and progressing adaptation of international standards. AlbaniaMontenegro and North Macedonia were the upper-middle income countries included in the UNECE project with Romania (high-income) and the Kyrgyz Republic (lower-middle income) for comparison.

The Scorecard research shows that basic property rights are strong in Montenegro, North Macedonia and Romania. Albania and the Kyrgyz Republic are still coping with the transition from state-controlled economies, so property rights remain weak. However, in all these countries, the enforcement of property rights remains a risk for investors. All of the examined countries have weak independent judiciary and dispute resolution can cost time and money. As with investment in any country, contracts should include a mandatory arbitration clause to avoid the courts and the ensuing drain on the investment.
Access to credit also remains a problem. While opportunistic investors are not overly concerned with lending, the lack of venture capital and a strong stock market in these countries makes them highly dependent on the Central Banks and increases investor risk from currency fluctuations and banking collapse. Montenegro and Romania have stronger financial transparency, so investors should be able to find independent asset valuers to help them price risk.
Albania, Romania and North Macedonia have a degree of effective governance including the ability for citizens to petition the government and relatively free markets. The primary risk for investors in all of these countries is government regulation. While most of these countries have a favorable taxation system – with the notable exception of Albania – they all lack licensed and regulated professional services. Regulations across the spectrum are likely to conflict and the governments lack the resources and will to enforce most regulations. They also lack efficient capital markets so that capital can grow and be reallocated.
Of course, opportunistic investors are ready to accept risk if they can price it and mitigate it with insurance, leverage, partnership and other tools. The new International Property Markets Scorecards for Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, and the Kyrgyz Republic can give investors an understanding of the entire property market system and the risk factors in each country.

These Scorecards can be used to develop strategies for market entry and higher returns in countries that are eager for direct foreign investment. Each investor will have different objectives and risk tolerance, so there are opportunities in each of these countries. Examples include the purchase and rehabilitation of distressed assets or public-private partnerships for infrastructure improvements. Whatever the case, these Scorecards are a valuable tool that can be used by opportunistic investors as well the governments, advocates and reformers in each country to help attract investment and improve the lives of citizens.

Risk

“Men will risk their lives, even die for ribbons”. ― Napoléon Bonaparte

While I am sure it sounded better in French, the sentiment remains. We are terrible at judging risk and even worse at putting our lives on the line for the right reason. Bamboozled by greed, anger and ignorance; we spend our days chasing after the phantoms our corporate overlords have fashioned into the shallow pool of commerce. Ginned up at the slightest provocation to hate, we then cleanse ourselves with a post, click or online purchase.

Now that we have fouled our nest so much that Mother Nature has put us in time out, maybe we should reevaluate the currency of our lives. Petulant to the end, we are certain this peril does not apply to us as long as we have the symbols of success – the pins, ribbons and security of home and acceptance. Until everyone has home and acceptance, no one will have security.

The solutions are always simple. Do the work. Appreciate the love you have. Be the first to forgive. Determine to build a future based on value, truth and beauty.

Library

To meet the challenges posed by the scale and scope of urbanization in the context of global uncertainty, disruptive and destructive change, requires a true sense of urgency.” H.E. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan

From February 8-13, I attended UN-Habitat’s World Urban Forum 10 in Ahu Dhabi. President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan and H.E. Josaia V. Bainimarama, Prime Minister of the Republic of Fifi were the speakers representing the world’s governments at the opening ceremony. One from a country that continues to suffer from forty years of futile wars brought on by the sociopathic men who we continue to mislabel leaders, and one from a country that will quite literally disappear because of our inability to take care of mother earth.

I was there for the debut of FIABCI’s The City We Need is Affordable Vol. IV at the Library in the Urban Village created in the Exhibition Hall as an example of an inclusive city. This was my second time participating in the Forum focused on changing the trajectory of our future from one based on greed, anger and ignorance; to one focused on culture, innovation and compassion. Once again it was the women who were clear-headed and filled with practical ideas of how to reverse the damage done by profit-seeking above all else.

The UN has declared this a Decade of Action toward the Sustainable Development Goals and Mother Nature has now made sure we all realize this is about us and the urgent actions we take today, but more importantly the community building actions we take tomorrow when the world opens back up. The theme of the fourth volume of The City We Need is Affordable is “housing is a human right.” One case in the book is about Finland’s Housing First model which says that homeless people must be provided housing first, rather that after they have cleaned up their lives and become respectable as is the requirement in most places. Another is how modular homes donated by the people of Hawaii to the victims of the Tohoku earthquake in Japan were disassembled and shipped back to Honolulu to house the homeless.

While it may be easy to succumb to the sensationalism our feckless media continues to spew, we have had the ability to build community and take care of our neighbor all along. We are the ones who have given up control based on the false notion that the stock market is an indicator of prosperity and someone else will do the hard work of rooting out evil. After we emerge from this period of incubation, we either band together and build a new affordable, inclusive, safe and resilient world or we leave our future to the same vultures who created and sold the poison of every man for himself.

Distraction

“Clever gimmicks of mass distraction yield a cheap soulcraft of addicted and self-medicated narcissists.” Cornel West

Which came first the ignorance or the violence? The solution lies in understanding the true cause. We have been pushed so far off course by the oligarchs and their perpetual war machine that we don’t even bother to treat the symptoms of our collective psychosis much less the cause. “Everyone’s got a gimmick now,” we learn from the first African American superhero in the Captain America movies. Now that’s progress!

Narcissus’s cool, clear pond has been replaced by our device screens and no matter how much our community loves us or begs for contribution, we post and click certain that with enough exposure on social media, we are filling our need as social animals. Thus we reinforce our insecurities and rage about how everyone else has caused our injury.

Do something. The remedy for distraction is authentic interaction with another person. Next try it in a group of people (real people). Today’s divisiveness and chaos was caused by our dismissal of each other. The only solution is to return the focus to people rather than commerce.

Capitalism

“Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Are you a capitalist? When I first started traveling the world, I told my family and friends I was spreading capitalism – particularly the “miracle of securitization”. This was in the early aughts prior to the Lehman Crash and I was an evangelist for residential mortgage bundling, selling off and pumping the money back into the system. Surely the finance, insurance and real estate sector could lift more people out of poverty and put them on the ladder to success if only other countries replicated the U.S. system.

Today when I ask my students if they are capitalists, they get a puzzled look on their faces. They are Master’s of Real Estate students, so I probe further to see if they understand how a capitalist system is supposed to work. “Make as much money as you can, right?” Wrong. Capital must be directed toward its most productive use. Profit is essential, but part of that profit must be reinvested in the means of production.

The quote above is from Martin Luther King’s 1964 march on DC for jobs and freedom. In the ensuing years the distortion of our economy continued apace until even the privileged few felt the effects of their excessive greed and the deliberate starving the system that includes workers, small businesses and essential infrastructure. Rather than learn from the crash, our oligarchs merely took at time out, got triage from the government and reemerged stronger and ready to make sure they get theirs before the music stops again.

Six Democratic Socialist were recently elected to the Chicago City Council. They were elected because pragmatic Chicagoans were fed up with the shills for free market capitalism who time after time failed to deliver affordable housing, economic opportunity or an effective counter to the corrupt machine that continues to line the pockets of pin-striped insiders. The day of reckoning has arrived and whatever we label it, we must remember our power and take back our right to control our economic destiny.

Myth

If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.
– William Blake

Africa is not what you think. Our Colonial Masters have taught us that it is a backward, threatening place. Arabs are not our enemy. China was done with empires long ago. The myths continue. Our problems derive from our ever narrower world views.

Over the last year, I traveled to three continents and boiled in the soup of humanity. I ate Nasi lemak in KL, kebab in Dubai and goat soup in Lagos. Everywhere I saw how closely we are all connected and countless beautiful human interactions.

At the same time, many reduced their vision to a smaller and smaller screen. Where do we start to change the world? We start by building community. For every disruption, there must be a powerful counter. The purpose of the monster in the myth is to spur you to overcome your fears and inaction.

Stop feeding the chaos. Change your point of view. Take back your narrative.