During his second year at Yale SOM, Brian Murray ’10 got involved with a project renovating a dilapidated building in Philadelphia, and, he said, “A lightbulb went off in my head.” Murray saw that real estate development has enormous potential to change people’s lives.
“Developers have more influence over a community than anything else out there, whether positive or negative,” he said.
Murray is now a principal at Shift Capital, a social impact-focused real estate development firm working in Philadelphia. He spoke to students on May 1 as a guest of the Net Impact club.
Shift Capital, he said, looks for neighborhoods that are struggling, but that have potential, with access to public transportation or other assets. The firm tries to develop a “wedge,” an entry point into a neighborhood, like artisanal “maker” studios, a charter school, urban agriculture.
Much of the developer’s role is to act as curator, bringing together other players, like artists, architects, and community activists, he said. “Developers are the ones who coordinate this dance.”
Another key is thoughtfully designed affordable housing. “It’s a tragedy what affordable housing has done to cities,” Murray said. In order to encourage low-income people to find other housing, he noted, cities “purposely made buildings that people didn’t want to live in.”
The new developments need a strong brand identity—something that is emphasized for high-end real estate but often neglected otherwise. “Brand is weak in real estate,” Murray said. “My generation and younger, we’re so brand-conscious.”
Right now, Shift Capital is focused on two neighborhoods in Philadelphia, starting with one block and then expanding outward. “Real estate is a slow, slow game,” Murray said. “When you get into real estate, you’re in it for years.”
But, he emphasized, the rewards can be big. “There’s this win-win-win as a developer if you have the right attitude and the right plan. You can win financially, you can win on the social side, and the community wins."