Crain's New York Business , April 12, 2016 | Category: Awards
When Brian Benjamin was 5, his family moved from Harlem to Starrett City, Brooklyn. So when Benjamin decided to move back to the fast-changing neighborhood as a young adult, his mother was a little puzzled. "She told me that we didn't leave there so I could go back," he recalled.
Benjamin has secured his place as a leading uptown organizer, using the connections he built while attending Brown University and working in finance to help raise money for Barack Obama's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. In 2010, he joined Genesis Cos., a real estate development firm started by a classmate at Harvard Business School.
The company now owns 1,000 affordable apartments in the area and last year bought 358 units from Abyssinian Development Corp. for $26 million, pledging the housing will remain affordable for decades to come.
Now that much of Harlem has gentrified, Benjamin said, careful planning is needed to ensure residents get their share of decent jobs and aren't forced out by rising rents. "The mindset here used to be 'Go, do anything,' when it came to development," he said. "We have to do it smarter now."
To that end, two years ago he was appointed chairman of his local community board's land-use committee, which helps determine what can be built.
He's currently negotiating with a developer who wants to replace an abandoned low-rise building with a 12-story apartment tower. Benjamin is trying to persuade the developer to include an LGBT center and set aside half the proposed 300 units for low-income residents.