After 26 weeks of intensive readings, take-home assignments, quizzes and networking dinners, Fatima Laster completed what she said is the equivalent of a four-year degree in real estate development.
“I now know about a whole industry that historically people of color have been left out of, and how to create buildings for the community I care about,” said Laster, one of 20 new graduates of the Associates in Commercial Real Estate (ACRE) program. The program trains adult minority students of all ages in real estate development, property management and construction management.
Laster is currently an assistant project manager at Jordan’s Construction Services, where she was introduced to ACRE. She also is a visual artist and principal at her own interior design business, FKL Design.
The graduation ceremony was held recently at Marquette University before an audience of family members, real estate developers and ACRE alumni.
ACRE was founded by Marquette business professor Mark Eppli in 2005 and is coordinated by LISC Milwaukee in partnership with Milwaukee School of Engineering, UW-Milwaukee and Marquette University. Major funding is provided by the Mandel Group and the Opus Foundation.
Barry Mandel, president of the Mandel Group, said ACRE graduates stop him on the street to say, “I graduated from ACRE and here is what I have done.”
In addition to mentoring from ACRE alumni such as Ald. Milele Coggs, Ald. Jose Perez and Melissa Goins, president of Maures Development Group, ACRE provides students with connections to real estate and construction groups such as Associated General Contractors of Milwaukee, the Institute of Real Estate Management and the National Association for Industrial Office Parks.
The program met weekly at classrooms on the Marquette, MSOE or UWM campuses. The ACRE curriculum centers on the current needs in the real estate market, with yearly modifications based on feedback from previous graduates.
Class members have varied professional experiences, including banking, architecture, economic development, low-income housing, legal services, government and private business.
According to 2017 graduate Rick Banks, instructors lead discussions connecting the development market to the real world, race and equity.
Banks, Harambee Great Neighborhood Initiative coordinator at Riverworks Development Corp., said he has noticed abandoned city properties around Milwaukee but felt that he had little knowledge or tools to re-develop the properties.
“I appreciate that ACRE professors explained why areas in Milwaukee are abandoned, while giving us hands-on experiences, site visits, and connections so we can learn how to rebuild Milwaukee ourselves,” said Banks.
Banks said his long-term goal, to create a development company that restores city-owned properties, is now within reach. “We need more minorities in real estate … if we want to build up development in our communities,” he added.
Felix Castro, a real estate appraiser for ValCore Appraisal, said he graduated from ACRE with the right tools to further tap into the Hispanic market.
“Now I know where the gaps in development lie and how to fill them myself,” said Castro. “I believe in the state of Wisconsin and the city of Milwaukee. As an ACRE graduate I know how to give back and help communities previously ignored,” Castro added.
Fatima Benhaddou, a graduate and speaker at the ceremony, noted, “Not many developers want to take a risk in developing in the inner city.” Benhaddou added that each ACRE graduate’s unique background, combined with the education and networking provided by the program, can help solve some of Milwaukee’s problems.
“I always say my favorite thing about Milwaukee is that it has big city problems but it’s small enough that you can see your impact,” Benhaddou said.
Editor’s note: This article was updated to correct inaccuracies related to Fatima Laster. We apologize for the errors.