Milwaukee developer Brandon Rule aims to help close the racial wealth gap

February 19, 2021

As part of broad commitment, U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation is working to deepen relationships with Black developers.

Entrepreneur Brandon Rule is focused on building and opening doors. 

This October when he opens Thirteen31 Place Apartments, Rule will have built 89 affordable housing units in the Walker’s Point neighborhood where he grew up in Milwaukee.

It’s been more than two decades since he moved there as a five-year-old after an earthquake displaced his family from Los Angeles. And in recent years, Rule has seen the neighborhood begin to gentrify. One of his goals as a developer and founder of Rule Enterprises is to preserve affordable options.

Rule also sees his work as a vehicle to help close historic racial wealth gaps by breaking barriers – such as those in his industry. Trade publication Commercial Property Executive reported last year that only 1.3% of senior executive roles in the commercial real estate industry are held by Black men.

“Everything we do at Rule Enterprises is rooted in equity, equality and dignity, and that means that we will focus on developing much-needed quality affordable housing options and services for people in the neighborhood,” said Rule. “Housing is a key component to economic mobility and opportunity.”

At U.S. Bank, we recognize that as well. Earlier this week, our company launched U.S. Bank Access Commitment, a new long-term approach to help build wealth in diverse communities. As part of the approach, our community investment and tax credit subsidiary U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation (USBCDC) pledged to deepen relationships with Black-led affordable housing developers.

USBCDC, which has been working with Rule since early last year, provided a $12 million construction loan for Thirteen31 Place Apartments. The project is an example of work to come.

“We need more partners like Rule, who can set the agenda for communities in need,” said Dan Smith, senior vice president of affordable housing at USBCDC. “It can have a direct impact on building wealth and financial inclusion for those communities.”

How Rule got started in commercial real estate

While pursuing a degree in economics and sociology at Marquette University, Rule was exposed to real estate development through the Associates in Commercial Real Estate (ACRE) Program, an initiative from LISC Milwaukee. The program’s goal is to expand the representation of people of color in the commercial real estate fields of development, property management and construction management. 

“Young people from the inner cities are not exposed to Black developers, and this program gives them that possibility,” says Rule, who has continued his involvement with ACRE.

To learn the intricacies of the industry, Rule worked as a personal banker at the CDFI Community Reinvestment Fund, attended conferences and focused on networking. 

He established Rule Enterprises in 2013 and was awarded his first tax-credit project in 2016, a 60-unit Seven04 Place Apartments, also in Walker’s Point. Rule continues to draw motivation from one of its tenants, a man who was previously homeless in Milwaukee.

“Since he didn’t have a home address, he was unable to access to healthcare, but now that he has a place to live, he can have the access to care,” said Rule. “That’s real impact.”

What’s next for Rule

As he continues to build his portfolio, Rule is also focused on opening up opportunities for others. He does so by collaborating on projects, mentoring up-and-coming developers and starting a fund to expand access to capital. 

“My goal is to enhance the eco-system of Black developers by forming strategic partnerships [such as with USBCDC] to create wealth for Black developers across the country,” he explained.

He’s also expanding beyond his neighborhood and city, currently leading affordable housing developments in Madison, Wisconsin, and in Washington, D.C.

“When you have a sense of perseverance, you can accomplish pretty much anything you put your mind to,” he said. “I am proud of the work I do in real estate development, and specially of being a Black developer.”

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