Roundtable’s DeBoer Reflects on CRE Advocacy in CPE Awards Keynote

The recipient of CPE's inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award shared insights on the industry's accomplishments and new priorities.

Jeffrey DeBoer, founding president & CEO of The Real Estate Roundtable and winner of the Commercial Property Executive 2023 Influence Awards’ inaugural Lifetime Achievement award, reflected Thursday on the remarkable changes that have unfolded during his 42-year career in the industry. No longer a splintered group of interests that rarely cooperated on policy issues, commercial real estate is now in a position to shape policy for the benefit of its stakeholders and the communities they serve. 

And though DeBoer is characteristically unassuming about his own efforts, no small degree of the credit goes to him and the organization he leads. In the course of influencing decades of Federal legislation related to investment, finance, tax policy, energy and homeland security, The Real Estate Roundtable has done much to transform perceptions of the industry around the country. 

Shaping policies and perceptions

When DeBoer was starting out as a real estate tax policy lawyer in the 1980s, he recalled, the industry was a highly “opaque” clique of sector-specific local developers, owners and property managers that were perceived by both the public and Washington as selfish hoarders of land, capital and tax subsidies.

“It was dominated by powerful, local or sometimes regional private developers, owners and managers. It was splintered along geographic lines and along product types,” DeBoer recounted. “Industry sectors did not support each other. Urban owners didn’t work with suburban owners or rural owners. It was a mess, frankly,” he added.

That perception influenced deleterious policies. One example was the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which had a “very detrimental impact on values and investment returns,” DeBoer recalled. “Many say that the bill caused countless bankruptcies and lender failures.” 

For there to be any meaningful change, DeBoer knew that the industry would have to place greater emphasis on public service, advocacy and collaboration. “We wanted to flip the Washington perception of real estate from one centered on individual self-interest to one that emphasized the positive connection that real estate has to job growth, local budgets, education and safe communities and better opportunities for everyone,” DeBoer noted.  His goal was to help shape a climate that focused “on growing healthy income-producing real estate asset values and their benefit to communities.”

The first step was finding common ground among a diverse field of professionals, regions and asset classes. Industry leaders across the board needed to work with each other and with trade associations in order to “unite into one voice the discrete types and uses of income producing real estate,” DeBoer recalled.

The industry’s views of its own interests needed to take greater account of how their business impacts and benefits local communities. These principles reflected a desire to “erode the policy debating differences between asset types and entity classifications,” according to DeBoer.

At the same time, what was equally important to influencing Washington’s perspectives and policies was having members with educated, nuanced takes on policy. “We also wanted to up the quality of our policy positions. In essence, we wanted to be viewed as knowing what we were talking about, not just reacting to proposals,” DeBoer said.

Lasting impact

The effects of DeBoer’s approach and its impact on policy were enormous. In terms of monetary policy, The Real Estate Roundtable worked successfully to spare industry professionals from passive loss rules. “These saved many struggling owners at the time and helped to propel the industry into the public markets,” DeBoer said.

The Roundtable’s efforts not only enhanced the industry’s contributions to its employees and society, it also bolstered its resiliency. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the organization championed the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which provides the industry with guaranteed insurance from terrorism-related losses. Six years later, during the Great Financial Crisis, the Roundtable mitigated the industry’s struggles by advocating for extensions of impaired loan payments. 

The strength of the Roundtable’s policy proposals transcends party politics as well. All of the organization’s tax priorities were preserved in tax legislation of both the Biden and Trump administrations. 

In addition to proposing new legislation, The Real Estate Roundtable preserved existing laws. One example was the regional center program of the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, which the Roundtable helped revise to expedite the visas of foreign investors and further stimulate the economy. “It’s hard to believe that that an expired—and extremely controversial— immigration program was cleaned up and reinstated into law,” DeBoer said.

Today’s to-do list

DeBoer’s emphasized that the Roundtable’s achievements result from a large group effort.  “They’re due to a lot of different people working in different teams to analyze issues, develop strategy, create and deliver understandable messages,” DeBoer reflected. “The Roundtable leadership has from day one, provided me with exceedingly supportive guidance,” he added.

READ ALSO: CPE Announces 2023 Influence Award Winners

Despite accepting an award for a lifetime of contributions to the industry, DeBoer has no intention of stopping anytime soon. As the industry enters “a period of heightened policy risk,” in areas from housing development to interest rates, DeBoer sees advocacy as more important than ever.

“It’s very important that everyone recognize that to ignore Washington in the coming years is to increase your business risk,” DeBoer cautioned.” I believe that as citizens, we can all do better individually and collectively, (and) we need to encourage sound, fact-based policy action on big, important national issues,” DeBoer concluded.

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