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Budding Builders Go Back to School : Real estate: A new USC program is designed to help minority business people break into property development--a field traditionally dominated by Anglo males.


As a private investigator and lawyer, Glenn Brown knows how to track down people and information. But Brown, who would like to become a commercial land developer, needed to learn more about the complex world of real estate finance and development.

Brown and 25 other minority students were introduced to the field through a new real estate development program at USC. The program, an intensive two-week course that covered everything from investment analysis to loan underwriting, was designed to help minority business people break into a field traditionally dominated by Anglo males.

Many participants in the program, which concluded July 23, said they would like to develop affordable housing, health-care facilities and other projects in Central Los Angeles.

"This program has given us the skills to do something for the community," said Brown, who would like to build shopping centers that include training sites where residents can learn to become auto mechanics, plumbers and electricians.

"These are jobs that you don't have to have a Ph.D. to get but will let you make a good living," said Brown, whose desire to become a developer stems from his experience owning and managing several apartment buildings in the Mid-Wilshire area.

The students ranged from recent college graduates to veteran City Hall insiders such as former Councilman Bob Farrell, who represented the 8th District in South Los Angeles from 1974 to 1991.

Having been a council member, Farrell is familiar with the permit process for real estate development. But he said the class taught him technical skills such as calculating the current and future financial values of a project.

"When you're down in City Hall, you have a lot of analysts who do that for you," Farrell said. "This was a great hands-on experience."

As project owners, developers are key because they hire the architects, contractors and others. However, the problem is that many minorities lack technical expertise, access to capital and the business connections to successfully compete against established firms, said Richard Benbow, deputy administrator for equal opportunity and contract services for the Community Redevelopment Agency.

In his 17 years with the agency, Benbow said, there has been an "absolute lack of minority developers," especially when it comes to large projects. "Generally minority developers are involved primarily in housing and small-scale commercial projects."

Although 26 students may not seem like a lot, they can make a difference, experts say. "We see this as a program where the students learn the skills to be successful in the industry," said David Dale-Johnson, co-director of the program.

The students will also benefit because they become members of the influential USC Real Estate Alumni and Friends association, said Stuart Gabriel, the other co-director. "We are just so well-connected to real estate financing and real estate development around town."

The 1,000-member association conducts academic briefings, raises money for the USC Program in Real Estate and fosters networking.

Dale-Johnson and Gabriel are associate professors of finance and business economics.

The program is only the second of its kind in the nation, and was developed by the USC School of Business Administration, the Mayor's Office of Business and Economic Development and the CRA. The other minority real estate program is at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

USC plans to conduct the program each summer, Gabriel said. To be accepted, students must have significant professional or academic experience that will allow them to be successful in the industry. The cost per student is $3,000, with most of this year's class receiving scholarships, Gabriel said. There were two Latinos, one Asian-American and 23 African-Americans in the class.

Armed with the knowledge gained during the program, participants are already planning the projects they want to build.

Brown hopes to start a small shopping center project within 90 days.

Farrell said he would like to develop affordable-housing projects with Latinos, such as classmate Ana Barbosa, to improve relations between African-Americans and Latinos.

Barbosa, president of the Latin Business Assn., said the program "will bring about a new breed of developer."

"We need to bring in new people who represent the community," said Barbosa, who recently became the co-owner of a development company called Torres-Barbosa. The company is arranging financing for a youth center in East Los Angeles. "Developers before never took into consideration what the community wanted. You need to have people building the city who are from the city."

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