People have difficulty being leaders if it means breaking with conventions. When you talk with a group of people about an attractive leadership opportunity, they will often express enthusiasm at the conceptual level. Then when you ask when they would like to take the action or make the change they have just said they support, they will tell you they will do it as soon as everyone else does.
In many large cities in the US, there is a crisis caused by a shortage of affordable housing options. This has led to a host of social challenges. In this series called “How We Are Helping to Make Housing More Affordable” We are talking to successful business leaders, real estate leaders, and builders, who share the initiatives they are undertaking to create more affordable housing options in the US.
As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing David Sand, Chief Impact Strategist — Community Capital Management (CCM)
David Sand has over three decades of experience in the impact and ESG investing industry. He has a long track record of crafting investment solutions for clients who want to support affordable housing, their local communities, and the environment. At CCM, Sand works on thought leadership, new product development, and keeping the firm at the forefront of impact and ESG investing.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I was a history major in college with minimal interest in finance. My real interested was in social change and during the anti-apartheid movement in the 1970s, I was exposed to the potential of using pressure on businesses as a lever to effect behavior changes. After successful regime change in South Africa, in part due to pressure from shareholders, I felt that the next logical step would be for investors to make affirmative commitments of their values to guide their portfolio decisions. From there it has been a long and winding road to the present day of global influence of impact and ESG investing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
It is more of a personal story than a career story: when I was in high school, I worked in an ice cream parlor on East 86th St in New York City. The usual shift was three people and on one very slow afternoon, my two co-workers asked if I was ok if they went out for a bit. Sure enough, right after they left it got very crowded. Then the milkshake machine jammed (or maybe I loaded it wrong). Then a customer said there was water on the floor because a freezer was melting. Soon after, the cash register drawer got stuck and I had to ask people to pay with exact change. More mayhem ensued. My lesson learned: you may think you can do things on your own, but you always need help.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
My career parallels the development of the current state of play for impact and ESG investing. Early on, I was fortunate to work with a few clients who believed in a fundamentally different type of financial system: one that incorporated mission and values along with profits. It was slow going for many years. It was really only after the financial crisis and The Great Recession that sufficient numbers of investors began asking questions about what their money was really doing and how it did or did not align with their overall goals. If I had to offer a lesson from the growth of the field it would be that investment fads come and go but each of us has a responsibility to ask hard questions about what we believe in, want to avoid, and want to support.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many. I have been fortunate to have multiple mentors, rabbis, and coaches along the way. One person I will mention who has been a big help is Tim Smith who was for many years head of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) in New York. As I was launching my career, I sometimes felt like the issues I was working on were somewhat random and were guided more by what I cared about then any sort of overarching plan. I took great comfort from always finding that wherever I was and whatever I was working on, Tim was already there and had paved the way.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
There are two books that spoke to me early in my career and helped define the path I wanted to take, even if it seemed uncharted. First is Global Reach: The Power of Multinational Corporations by Richard Barnet & Ronald Muller. Published in the 1970s, it was the first exposure for me and many others to the new reality of corporations having power and influence that was beyond the reach of governmental borders and policy makers. Second is The North Will Rise Again: Pensions, Politics and Power in the 1980s by Randy Barber & Jeremy Rifkin. This book anticipated and predicted many of the impact/ ESG investing and shareholder advocacy campaigns that have come to define the impact and ESG investing universe we know today. The authors were off by a couple of decades in terms of when institutional investors would start speaking out, but they nevertheless showcased the importance of investors having a sense of mission around how their money was put to work.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Things lead to things” is not very elegant or grammatical, but it is an aphorism that has served me well. You never know where a particular path or project will lead, but so often activities that seem most random prove to be most rewarding. Many times, early in my career, I questioned whether a particular action or direction was indicated or worthwhile only to find that I ended up with unanticipated benefits and relationships. Some call it karma, some say serendipity: I just try to remember that things lead to things.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the shortage of affordable housing. Lack of affordable housing has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities. I know this is a huge topic, but for the benefit of our readers can you briefly explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?
“Housing crisis” is a term that has meant different things at different times. In 2021, some people think of housing crisis as a term for college graduates working in tech who find it expensive to live in popular markets. Others think the crisis in housing is the pervasive disparity between white and non-white homeownership rates even when accounting for income, education, and credit scores. At CCM, we believe that equal access to appropriately priced affordable housing is essential for all efforts to make our society work better for everyone. For over 20 years, we have been working for clients who want to improve housing affordability in the U.S., particularly for people who lack full and efficient access to the conventional capital markets. For us, this means an emphasis on affordable rental housing and affordable homeownership. Since CCM’s inception, our investments have helped finance over 25,000 affordable mortgages to low- and moderate-income borrowers and nearly one million affordable rental housing units.
There are many sources and root causes for the current levels of housing inequity. Some may be traced to the echoes of enslavement and the challenges Black families have had in gaining and preserving generational wealth. Others stem from government and industry redlining practices. Earlier this year, CCM published a report titled “Addressing the Black Homeownership Gap in America” which pulled together many factors that have led to the gap and some of the things people can do about them today.
Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact to address this crisis? Can you share some of the initiatives you are leading to help correct this issue?
For over two decades, CCM has offered clients the option to customize their investments to specific communities (place-based impact investing) or values (thematic investing). For example, a client who is concerned about housing, income inequality, or environmental degradation can ask us to find investments that specifically look to address those problems. To date, we have invested approximately $11.1 billion in impact initiatives on behalf of our clients. Most recently in 2020, CCM launched two initiatives with specific attention on the COVID-19 crisis and investing in minority people and communities. Our COVID-19 relief effort initiative looks to invest in solutions and challenges from coronavirus and recognizes that the negative effects have been disproportionately experienced by the most vulnerable people and communities. Our Minority CARES (Community Advancement Racial Empowerment Strategy) was created in response to the murder of George Floyd in 2020. While we believe that all our investments help make a better society, we understood that we are in a unique moment and people want to be able to do their part in targeted and quantifiable ways. Because CCM measures, monitors, and tracks all the investments we make, we were able to look at 20 years of data on our portfolios and determine which of our 18 impact themes had resulted in the greatest amounts of capital going to people, businesses, and communities of color. We took the 8 themes with the largest amounts of dollars going to minorities and bundled them into Minority CARES in an ongoing effort to channel impact capital into affordable housing and other important community development programs for minorities and in minority neighborhoods.
Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?
I am proud of many little things and quiet moments that happened on this journey. I expect there will be many more. The experience that brings me the greatest satisfaction is working with clients who initially don’t believe they have “permission” to incorporate their values with their investment objectives. I cherish the look on their faces and the gratitude they express after they have been shown that they don’t have to make a choice between making money and doing what they think is right.
In your opinion, what should other home builders do to further address these problems?
CCM is an investment manager and therefore all of our efforts are on the demand side. We hope that by growing our business and assets under management we can help clients voice their desires to see more safe and affordable housing. We think builders, banks, and others will respond to demand side signals and do their part to address the issue.
Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this crisis? Can you give some examples?
The number one thing that all individuals and communities must do is develop a fuller sense of values and priorities. We all face an ever-changing blizzard of demands on our time, but we must find ways to prioritize as consumers, voters, and investors. I am confident that safe and affordable housing for all is a goal shared by most people.
Number two is sustained commitment to root out the remaining racial discrimination in our country, especially as it relates to housing. Finally, Congress needs to look at overall government support for housing at all levels and determine what use of taxpayer dollars and tax deductions make the most sense.
If you had the power to influence legislation, are there laws which you would like to see introduced that might help you in your work?
CCM works within a complicated web of laws and regulations that give us our menu of impact investment options. The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), the role of Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and many others all play a role in creating the opportunities we see for our clients. We are at the dawn of a new Administration in Washington and I am sure everyone has their own list of changes they would like to see. My hope is that we have a robust national discussion about the 21st Century definition of infrastructure and how it needs to include more than roads and bridges.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- The importance of storytelling. We are financial professionals and operate in a world of basis points and rates of return. But the key part of the manager-client experience is how we tell the stories of what we have invested in, where, and why.
- Risk never goes away. Many of our investments have guarantees and other forms of credit enhancement. They have been de-risked for us and our clients. Its important to recognize that the risk has gone to someone else, it hasn’t magically disappeared.
- People have difficulty being leaders if it means breaking with conventions. When you talk with a group of people about an attractive leadership opportunity, they will often express enthusiasm at the conceptual level. Then when you ask when they would like to take the action or make the change they have just said they support, they will tell you they will do it as soon as everyone else does.
- Its always about people. Always. Good ideas are important and working for something you truly believe in is a blessing, but success can only come when people share belief in the ideals and in each other. There are way too many sports metaphors in business, but the concept of needing to be part of a team that is greater than the sum of the individuals is 100% true.
- A business without a mission will be limited and unfulfilling. A mission without a business plan won’t get very far.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I will confine my answer to the realm of financial services and investment management. Not suggesting I alone can be the inspiration, but the whole group of people and firms working globally to change finance for the better can have enormous influence over busines and society. Influence that can lead to a more just and sustainable economic system. From racial justice to climate change mitigation, the arena of informed investment dialogue is vital, and we can do so much more.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
That’s easy: Bruce Springsteen. I would like to tell him how his words, music, and character have been an inspiration for everyone who believes in the promise of America and how we need to work together to make it happen.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
CCM’s web site is www.ccminvests.com; much of the content we discussed today is found there. The firm tweets at @ccminvests.com. I am @davidfsand.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.
Thank you so much for the time and conversation.