While Cornell University was shut down for in-person meetings during the pandemic in 2020, Dustin Jones said a bittersweet, virtual goodbye to his six years with students and his position as director of its Baker Program in Real Estate—but a joyful hello to a new life and job at NewYork University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate as academic director of U.S. graduate programs.
Has your diverse career background in law, real estate, and academia been helpful as you’ve begun your new role at NYU?
Yes, having had that industry experience as well as administrative experience, I bring both of those backgrounds to the table. What drew me to NYU and Schack is the fact that so many of the faculty are from industry. There are 12 of us who are full-time NYU real estate faculty, and then there are more than 100 adjunct faculty who teach but have full- time jobs in the industry. This is an ideal scenario for me.
What is Schack doing in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programming?
We are looking at creating an affordable housing certificate. Some of the communities that have been most impacted by the pandemic have been communities of color, particularly in New York City where affordability has been an issue for a long time. I’ve also been talking with the director of the NYU Urban Lab, which Schack operates, about ways to engage historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) regarding urban development, inner-city development, and ways to improve communities and economic development.
What are some methods REITs should be looking at to increase diversity in the industry?
With respect to their investment strategy, REITs should clearly catalyze teams that look at communities of color where they can invest. Oftentimes those communities are overlooked as investment opportunities. The REITs that focus on urban areas and on inner-city development recognize the value proposition there.
Folks that are in positions of power, authority, and influence within their organizations need to have the conversations about increasing diversity and need to make it a priority. If there’s a metric that we look at every year, then we can improve it.
What changes are you seeing within real estate industry careers?
Some of the most lucrative or the most popular areas involve technology to change the way we live, work, and play. Over the past 10 years, every conference it seemed that I went to included discussions about disruption. The pandemic is probably the most disruptive thing that has happened to commercial real estate in at least a few generations. It’s accelerating the technology and innovation changes that were already starting to happen.