(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 481: Money is a Lot of Different Things Part 2

This week were sharing part 2 of our discussion with Jim Kumon. We chat about the challenges of development, how to crowdfund a building, coming to the end of an 80 year economic cycle, how the built environment is an outcome of how we structure capital, and how more information can make it harder to learn how new things.

To listen to this episode, visit Streetsblog USA or our hosting archive.

Some websites of note:

Electric Housing

Incremental Development Alliance

Passive House Crowdfund

Below is a full unedited AI generated transcript of the episode:


Jeff Wood (1m):
I wonder how do you teach development? What’s the process like if somebody wants to do more missing middle housing or focus on certain types of housing that don’t get a lot of attention, like how do we build that capacity? How do you teach quote unquote development? Yeah, because I don’t think it’s in school. No,

Jim Kumon (1m 32s):
God, bill I, I got, I got to work for six years basically being a remedial college course for, for professionals, frankly. ’cause that’s kind of what half of Ink Dev turned into was teaching people who dealt with real estate every day in their jobs. Planners, economic development, housing, now, you know, DEI type stuff, redevelopment agencies, right? These are the people who showed up at a lot of the early ink dev classes. We were out there trying to teach developers and guess who showed up and paid $200 to come to the course? People who were kind of help developers of all scales and literally couldn’t tell you anything hardly about the basic fundamentals of how it worked. And you’re like, well, no wonder we can’t have nice things.

Jim Kumon (2m 13s):
The people we’ve put in charge of making those nice things never got taught what a nice thing was and how to get it. And so we actually adjusted some of our curriculum as we went a couple years in to try to be inclusive of people that we knew were gonna come to these classes who would never actually be a developer themselves, but were highly influential to try to help make the rules or the money or the land or whatever work better in their community. And so that ecosystem piece lives on, in our work at neighborhood develop neighborhood evolution as well, because it’s such a team sport, right? The neighborhood evolution, Monty Anderson, he kind of made the 12 step process. Monty is a, a person, he self-described like I’m a simple man, right?

Jim Kumon (2m 56s):
He’s like, I need to see a path. I have to repeat that path. I can’t be, he’s not doing Li Tech projects. He’s not doing crazy. You know, like he just does these really straightforward but incredibly complicated, right? They’re not complicated financially, they’re complicated because he’s tackling all these things that don’t fall into single family houses, massive multifamily shopping malls, right? The the ways the places where conventional capital lives, right? It’s not any of those projects, right? Even Main Street projects are very hard because there’s no, you know, mortgage backed security, right? For Main Street, you know, mixed use buildings. If there was, we get, we probably see a lot more of ’em. And so that’s, I think the other reality of this educational process is that people thought money was, money was money.

Jim Kumon (3m 41s):
It’s like, well, no, money is a whole lot of different things and without money we, you don’t get real estate projects. And so I think that was probably the, the thing that we had to spend the most amount of time unpacking how to explain to people how money worked. Our built environment is a production of an outcome of the way that we structured capital. And so we keep getting the same thing because the money keeps being set up to do the same thing.

Jeff Wood (4m 8s):
Is it that the banks tell you what money is and you have to pay attention to what they tell you? Like, I mean, I’ve, I’ve heard these stories about Yeah. You know, parking requirements and stuff and those things come from the banks, not necessarily, you know, regulations and codes and stuff like that. Yeah,

Jim Kumon (4m 20s):
So certainly, well, there’s this whole suburban experiment thing that we did for the last 75 years, which also highly subsidized a certain way of, of certain pattern of development. And with that, you know, the economic in the banking system figured out a way to fund that process, right? Of building large scale developments with monocultures of build product types, right? Whether it was commercial, industrial, or residential, right? We got really good at building monocultures, neighborhood building, right? Development at the lot. And block level is not a monoculture, right? It’s the Amazon instead. And so you’re in part, and, and the thing about small development and incremental development, so incremental development is a lot, a lot of times taking bigger things and breaking them down so that we can use them.

Jim Kumon (5m 2s):
One of the biggest challenges we face now for the next couple decades, while you and I are still kicking around making decisions in this profession is we’re stuck with the built environment we have, right? We can decide that we think, you know, srodes are crappy and downtown office towers should be converted to residential, but it ain’t that easy. And so what’s gonna be interesting to see what happens is as we see a massive contraction in, you know, the commercial, especially the class B and C commercial office spaces, is the finance that’s attached to it all. Someone’s gonna lose a lot of money, some once. Lots of people are gonna lose lots of money when these one time use buildings that we created for decades are at the end and past the end of their expiration date.

Jim Kumon (5m 50s):
You know, what do you do with a building that’s 10, 15, 50, 50,000 square feet that has almost no value, whether it’s a a retail center or not, or you know, or a flash queue office building from the seventies, no one will lease it and therefore it has no value and therefore it has no taxable assessment, which means we have a hole in our city budget, right? That cascade hurts everybody in a hurry, right? Takes a couple years, right? To reassess these things and so forth. But it’s a problem we’re gonna have to work together to solve. And going back to the initial question about, well, do banks make these decisions? Well, yes, but they’re also bound by government regulation, right? They have to do certain things to keep their balance sheet flexible and to cover losses and so forth.

Jim Kumon (6m 31s):
So we are at a epic, right? Like we’re at a point an inflection point in our nation’s economy, right? A good friend, Johnny Sanfilippo, fellow San Franciscan there, his, his blog granola shotgun, one of my favorites, one of his early blog posts was talking about how systems rise and fall, right? How economies rise and fall. And so humanity has a pretty good cycle about every 70 to 80 years where we flip a switch and something serious happens. You know, whether it’s the industrial evolution to things that happened around post-Civil war and the railroads, and then World War II and suburbia, and we’re kind of running on the fumes of that last 80 year cycle, right?

Jim Kumon (7m 12s):
We’re kind of past due. And now the pandemic and other things that have changed about our, we’re into a new cycle. We don’t really know what that is yet. But we’re definitely, we’ve, I think the pandemic, I think was the final nail in whatever was the previous era’s coffin, right? Like we are into the great unknown still believing that we are using the same rules, the same financing, right? As the old system. And the takeaway that Johnny always pointed out, and this is something he just saw as he looked at these things and, and he read other people making the same observations, was that the old system doesn’t decide it’s gonna change itself. A new system arises and the old system becomes obsolete, right?

Jim Kumon (7m 53s):
People didn’t come back from World War II thinking, let’s go move out of the city and check out the suburbs that don’t exist yet, and we’re gonna move billions of dollars of capital out of the places that we’ve lived in and worked in for our entire lives, and we’re gonna go do this someplace else now. Right? That, that wasn’t the plan. It just, we set up a set of rules in finance where that became possible in, in some cases, you know, the only logical choice. So we don’t know what that next system’s gonna look like yet, but it’s probably gonna be pretty influenced by, you know, crazy weather patterns and a collapsing insurance market and a lot more speaking of funding, right? The fed basically stamping out the idea of making money on interest for about a decade.

Jim Kumon (8m 36s):
You know, as trained a whole era. I mean, that’s one of the biggest issues right now at the people that we’ve trained in real estate for the last 10 years, is that everybody knew nothing but three and 4% interest rates. Now they’re eight, right? No one’s performance work anymore, right? It’s like one thing. And then the old timers, the people who lived through the savings loan crisis in the eighties and, you know, picked the previous, you know, crisis, like, ah, I remember when it was 12% interest rates and we had to make these projects work. You youngins, you know, don’t, haven’t seen nothing, right? And it’s like, but it gives you perspective that this isn’t a new problem. But it is, you know, when we have a federal monetary policy that decides that money’s gonna be basically free, you know, for the better, better or worse for more than a decade, it distorts your economy.

Jim Kumon (9m 21s):
It does some weird stuff. And then, you know, the current problem we have with inflation is really problematic because we desperately need more housing. And the brute force tool that we’re using to try to control inflation is interest rates, which like multiplicatively negatively affects building more housing. And because we’re not building enough housing, we’re seeing rental rates rise. Yeah. And that’s actually making the inflation worse. And you’re like, this is a death cycle. This is why systems fail because we can’t figure out how to decouple these problems. So in, in some ways, building small and educating people about building small is being able to recognize that this is the industry that you’re a part of, right?

Jim Kumon (10m 4s):
The real estate industry is by definition a cycle that attributes of that cycle change. And the goal is to figure out how you respond and fit in and do projects within whatever economic cycle that you are in. And people make lots of money in downturns in real estate, right? Because they buy something that’s highly undervalued and they make it valuable again. So it’s not that you can’t do work in this day and age of higher interest rates, it’s just that you can’t do what you did five years ago. And that’s the thing. Like it’s, there’s so much creativity involved, and that’s not for everybody, right? And, and especially hard for the governments to keep up because they’re not nimble to begin with and they have tiff programs and free land and they have all these tools and then the tools just unfortunately they just keep rolling them forward, right?

Jim Kumon (10m 49s):
Well, we had this before it worked, and well, why is no one applying for our projects, our programs anymore? Because your tools don’t solve the problem we have today. They solved the problem we had five years ago. So there’s a catch up process that happens. And so even people who are trying to help don’t know how to help because they didn’t know how the pero worked to begin with. So real estate education in the kind of work that we’re trying to do at the neighborhood scale is difficult because you’re constantly a, in this macro cycle, but b you’re doing things with money and rules and so forth that aren’t even well rewarded in the macro cycle. You’re always kind of counter cycle to it. And so it requires you to teach people to do things that are like almost counter to every real estate blog or BiggerPockets, any of these types of like, go read about how this should work.

Jim Kumon (11m 41s):
And it’s like, yeah, but that’s not gonna work here. I think the, the biggest part about our work that was neighborhood evolution or, or whatnot, is that people are the solution at that point, right? I can teach you about performance all day, I can teach you how to read your zoning code. I can reach you how to draw a site plan. I can teach you these technical skills, right? And they’ll get you to a certain point. But at the end of the day, a community has to decide whether it wants more housing or not. Whether it wants to make meaning straight buildings that entrepreneur can buy and own and build wealth in. A community has to figure this out because we, we all, every community has the tools to make a real estate project happen. And it has the tools to make those properties more valuable and easier to get to by making good transportation choices and about what we put in a right of ways, how safe it is to step off the curb into a street, you know, and not be run down by a vehicle.

Jim Kumon (12m 33s):
Like we have the choices, we can make these choices. So the ability to educate people about, you know, why we’re here 20 years later. I mean, you and I started going to CNU, you know, trying to learn about why we shouldn’t have vehicle lanes that are too wide ’cause they kill people, right? ’cause people drive too fast. And yet, what am I doing 20 years later? I’m still project by project. You know, I’m coaching small developers how to deal with their public works departments who will not allow us to put on street parking in front of their retail. And you’re like, do I have to do we have to fight this battle one parking space at a time across the entirety of America, right? This is why we can’t have nice things. So I think it started with education because unless we understand the things that are preventing us from getting to the place we seemingly agree we wanna get to, we, we can’t make these community decisions to fix them.

Jim Kumon (13m 22s):
So I feel like it’s good that we’ve gotten to this point ’cause at least now we’re having a conversation. Yeah. Like so many of these things are at least on the table, even if we’re still not making the decisions to change the past.

Jeff Wood (13m 34s):
Yeah. There’s so many interesting things to talk about from that. I mean, the insurance stuff I’ve been noodling on as well. The, the, the, the inflation stuff is really interesting, especially since housing’s driving inflation. And so it’s not all the other things, it’s basically housing and then housing. It’s like a self perpetuating circle. But I wanna talk a little bit too about, and, and I’m sure we’ll get to this in, in future times, but I, I wanna talk a little bit about how you and faith are doing something a little bit interesting and different in terms of like crowdfunding a project. Oh. Because I think that that, you know, talking about finance, talking about thinking about how to do things a little bit differently, how it’s not, you know, it’s not gonna fit into any of those models necessarily, but it does fit into this kind of thing that’s been happening over the last, you know, 10, 15 years or so with this idea of, of people, you know, helping to build something together.

Jeff Wood (14m 19s):

Jim Kumon (14m 20s):
Speaking of like full circle as a society, right? When immigrants came to this country and built things right, they didn’t have 30 year mortgages or such tools, right? Unless they came here in the last like 40, 50, 60 years and even up until 1970, even those tools weren’t, you know, available to anybody who wasn’t basically white male and had a job. So like even then it was still a pretty closed door act activity to get the lowest rung of financing to happen. And so the tool that you’re talking about that is related to a project that we’re trying to put together, like right now, it’s, we are in the process of doing what is called regulation CF regulation crowdfunding. It is an SEC approved way to basically syndicate money for a business transaction in this case for real estate.

Jim Kumon (15m 8s):
And it was kind of born reborn about 10 years ago now, and went through a couple of iterations through the Obama administration and then was revised in the last couple years again to make the rules work better. There was a learning curve. The SEC’s job is to make sure that regular consumers don’t get ripped off, right? That’s, that’s kind of their, their role. And if you have lots of money and you’re really to risk it to do something and you lose it all, well, you knew better, right? Like you had lots of money, you got that somehow and you, you probably should have an ability to, to calculate risk as a result. And so the challenge with that is that you have to have an annual income of a quarter million dollars and net worth of, you know, many times more than that to play in the game, right?

Jim Kumon (15m 50s):
And so when you’re involved in a real estate transaction of anything more than a couple units, you’re talking to rich people, like they’re the only ones even technically really allowed to even be talked to, right? To raise money to, I have to put together the total capital was, well, five or $600,000. Some of it was mine, some of it was came from, from investors. And so when you are forced by regulation to only talk to people with that kind of capital, you’re talking to a very specific sliver of your community and your world. And so the crowdfunding rules were kind of meant to be able to allow a wider range of people to invest in businesses and, and then also in real estate. And so the rules allow for folks, anyone can invest into a regulation crowdfunding offering that at least $2,500, that’s like the household, you know, minimum regardless of what you do, if you make above $124,000 a year as a household and have more than $124,000 of net worth.

Jim Kumon (16m 48s):
So if you have some retirement savings, you have, whatever, anything that’s not your actual house of residence, that doesn’t count. But anything more than that. So again, if you’re 20 something and have a lot of student debt, you’re gonna be doing the minimum if you’re dual income, you know, in your forties and beyond and, you know, have something of savings, you know, in your portfolio, like you can play a little more in the game. So we’ve, we’ve opened a crowdfunding campaign for a duplex with a, with a carriage house on one lot. It is, we’re gonna try to make it a passive house project, the duplex in particular. And we are crowdfunding through a platform called Common Owner, and we’re kind of raised about $200,000 through the crowdfunding mechanism.

Jim Kumon (17m 29s):
And most of the folks who were in a phase called testing the waters. And that is a, a new thing that they, they did about two years ago in the latest rule changes that allow you to talk to people about your potential project before you spend a couple thousand dollars making an actual honest to goodness blessed offering and find out you had the wrong terms, you had too low interest rate, you had a product no one can understand, right? And then you’re done because like, you can’t fix that. So we’ve had a lot of, a lot of great conversations being able to use the testing and water the phase to, you know, if I could, would you type of conversation. And so we have verbal commitments of around a hundred thousand dollars and, and we’re trying to get to, you know, twice that, so we’ve been doing it maybe two months now.

Jim Kumon (18m 10s):
So it’s, that’s pretty quick for the world of fundraising, like to kind of get halfway to your goal from a standing still start. But it is mostly people interested in doing investments between five and $10,000, right? So if I’m raising $200,000, I gotta find, you know, 20 to 40 people depending on how much everyone puts in. So that’s like kind of doable, right? And the cost of construction is that, you know, it’s still not a small project. It’s gonna be $1.5 million to build a duplex with a unit out back over a garage, right? It’s like, you know, speaking of the old barn raising, right? That would’ve been a hell of a lot cheaper if we could just all get together. If the 40 people that was gonna give me money could basically order a bunch of wood and go spend three or four days just putting it up ourselves and wiring it and putting the roof on, we could be done a hell of a lot quicker for less money.

Jim Kumon (19m 1s):
I tell you we could. Yeah. And so that’s the weird part, right? Of where we are at, right? My father, I’m the third child as well, speaking of that from, from the beginning of the podcast. And we have very long generation in my family. And so my dad was a third child basically, and, and came along much later. And so my grandfather, his father was born in the 1890s, that’s how long our generations are. And so in the thirties and forties, he was a brick mason working at the Ford plant in Detroit, Dearborn actually. And he built and renovated things on the weekends, right? Polish, you know, hardworking Polish immigrants, right?

Jim Kumon (19m 41s):
Work in the factory, make a good living, and then on the side, you know, flip houses basically. And so he was a mason. So what they would do is they would go and lift up these old wooden rickety houses that were built in the 1890s in the center part of Detroit and Hamtramck where my dad was born, and prop these things up and, and like make them st sturdier, right? ’cause they were kind of rickety after 30 or 40 years and they’d, you know, fix ’em up a little bit and they’d, they’d flip ’em. But post-war, right? Materials were shortage, right? You couldn’t get roofing, you couldn’t get these things. And so my dad would tell me stories as he’s, as he’s a young kid. He was born in 1938 of, you know, this post-war era where people just got together on the weekends and poured a driveway for Joe.

Jim Kumon (20m 25s):
You hear about these anecdotes, it’s like, no, these things actually happened. There was no home builder. You’re gonna show up to build the post-war housing. Like that came out later. But the first five years after the war, it was just a free for all right? Like a good chunk of the first ring suburbs, you know, in our country were built just however, with the barn raising thought process. So it’s a really interesting thing to think about. Like, okay, so I come from a family. Both my father and my mother grew up for significant portion of their childhood in duplexes. Okay? And I didn’t even realize this until I was like 18 years old. Like, I just thought Clara was the lady who lived upstairs at my grandma’s house. I didn’t understand that she owned that.

Jim Kumon (21m 6s):
And that was like just, I lived in the hinterlands. I lived in a single family house at a suburb that, you know, or in a beyond a suburb. And I didn’t understand what that meant in, in urbanistic terms. And so I realize now that I’m like of a lineage of people who’ve lived in, in urbanism and duplexes and other things in, in big cities. My wife is as well in a sense, my kids will be sixth generation living in Minneapolis through her lineage. But you have to pause when you’re, I’m I’m out here pitching money, right? I’m talking about raising money so I can build something against $1.5 million in value and you’re like, I’m just building a duplex. So much work to just build a duplex, right? So much work just to build a duplex, right?

Jim Kumon (21m 47s):
And so I’m out here talking to people about like, okay, what’s accessible to us, right? And it’s gonna take me talking to 40 friends and strangers to make a couple hundred thousand dollars appear in a pot and then try to get a loan and then try to build this thing. And it’s like, well no wonder there was only 15 of those things getting built for the last four or five years after we changed the rules. ’cause like, you know, I’m sure it could be done a little cheaper than what I’m doing it. And I bought some very expensive land and there’s like two vacant lots in the neighborhood, you know, where my kids go to school, right? Because we’re in the part of town that doesn’t have any of those things. And so certainly it could be done for less than that, but it’s an example of why it is hard to get the things that we say we want.

Jim Kumon (22m 29s):
And you know, the 12 plex was multiple times more than that. So these are the smallest scales that we’re talking about making it happen. So anyways, you can check us out at Common Owner, it’s common owner.com and we’re one of the top products right now. And then common owner is in the process of merging with another crowdfunding platform called Small Change. And so as we launch here in the next couple of weeks, our actual, we can take your Money Now platform, there’ll still be a link on common owner.com, but small, small change.co I believe is the website. And you can check us out there if, if you’ve got 2,500 bucks or something that you wanna throw towards a duplex someplace far away from you. But we’re actually offering education as a part of this. This is the other thing that we’re doing is that through building Sundial, people always ask, how did you do this?

Jim Kumon (23m 13s):
Right? And that’s coming from people who wanna be developers themselves. It’s coming from people who are realtors, contractors, the ybi groups that we’re a part of. We had open houses here. People are like, this is so cool. Like, I wish I had a place, you know, for my, my mother, my boomerang child, my whatever. And so people are into it. They want see the sustainability pieces happen. They want to see more housing diverse than happy. You know, we had no idea if anyone was gonna like even remotely think this was an interesting idea. And you know, $5,000 is a, it’s a decent chunk of change to somebody, right? It’s not, it’s not nothing. Yeah. So we’ve, we’ve been surprised, right? To see like, again, right now we have more perfect strangers, you know, people who either kind of know or don’t know at all, who are like, yeah, this is a great idea.

Jim Kumon (23m 55s):
And you’re like, that’s, you don’t know me from Joe, right? Like, you went to a building, I built baby, maybe tour maybe once. Some of these people not at all. They just went to this website. And so it, it speaks to something about how there is a deep seated want for the change that we’re looking for, right? Like, if people are, are willing to like try to put $5,000 in their own money into a project of something they frankly barely know, right? It it speaks to like how much we really would like to see things that aren’t in the world yet happen, the things that we care about, that we’ve been talking about today. And that’s encouraging, that gives you hope, right? Because like that’s a, it’s a really serious commit.

Jim Kumon (24m 36s):
It’s a life-changing commitment for me, right? We hope to probably live in this structure too. That’s, that helps us make sure that we can pay off this thing and move it forward and maybe do it again one day, not anytime soon, but one day we’ll be done after this project. By the way, we’re very house poor right now. Like we’ve got a lot of great cool things that we’ve done. And yet they’re set up in such a way on purpose that they will not make us a lot of money for quite a long time. The cash flow is in the distant future, which is why I have to keep coming on podcasts to hawk my other work because I kind of, I have a lot of bills to pay. We have three kids under 10. But it’s exciting, right? It

Jeff Wood (25m 11s):
Is exciting. Yeah.

Jim Kumon (25m 11s):
It’s enjoyable to, I, I don’t know what it says about me or that my wife is a party and lets me do this too. To be at all these different angles, right? To talk about the zoning that allows these things to happen, to talk about our financial markets. And that’s why it takes a community to do real estate, right? Because all these different people and all these different sort of social values and rules have to come together to reach an outcome. And speaking of things I didn’t set out to do, we started out to be in the podcast, right? When I sat in a architecture office a year outta college and was, you know, drawing all day in, sketch up some multifamily housing buildings. I’m a risk averse person. I, I was perfectly happy with my headphones on drawing eight hours a day, you know, as long as I was, I was pretty cool.

Jim Kumon (25m 55s):
And then you realize at some point that there are limitations to how cool a thing is gonna be because of decisions other people are making. And that’s when I realized that I wanted to try to be a part of either helping people make better decisions or changing the system that makes us make bad decisions. And here we are 20 years later, I don’t know how much we’ve accomplished, but we started to, started to move that meter.

Jeff Wood (26m 21s):
You’d be surprised, I think I look back at what the conversations were like back in 2005. I mean, we were just trying to teach people what TOD was and now it’s like in the lexicon, right? And for you incremental development and missing middle housing and all that stuff, I mean that’s in the lexicon, like you said about en bism and, and everything else. Like, you know, you don’t have to beat down anybody’s door anymore to make it a conversation. It’s, it’s happening already. And so I know that in the line of work that we do, you know, in architecture and planning, it looks like it takes a long time to do things and it does. But the things that you started working on 20 years ago are now things that are actually real and, and have happened. And I’m always surprised at that. I’m like, well what did we do? And I was like, oh yeah, all these things have happened, right? Right. So I guess if we look back at it, we can say, well, what has happened?

Jeff Wood (27m 4s):
But I feel like there’s a lot of things because we have changed a lot of the language, a lot of the framing about development, about cities, about how we live. And there’s a whole world out there. You know, we’re all connected through the internet in some way that’s talking about it, right? And it’s even making, you know, big national magazines and the New York Times and all that stuff. So not that that’s like the end game or anything like that, right? But it’s just like

Jim Kumon (27m 25s):
The awareness. Yeah,

Jeff Wood (27m 26s):
It’s a measurement of where, where we’re at. So I’m happy about that. And then, you know, we talk about 2005 a lot, but that’s, you know, my first trip to CNU was in Los Angeles. I was invited by Hank Dipmar, who was one of my professors for a class and grad school. And he taught a class about TOD flew in from Las Vegas, New Mexico every other week for like four hours of class. And he’s like, Hey, you should come do the, come to the CNU thing. And I was like, I don’t, I don’t know what this is. He’s like, I want you to talk to some people. And so I, I drove out from Texas, right? I drove out from Austin. Oh, that’s right, you’re still Austin. And yeah, drove from Austin and my dad was like, yeah, go to conferences, meet people, do things like all that stuff. And so I was like, yeah. So I flew out, I got a hotel on Colorado Boulevard and drove to the thing every day.

Jeff Wood (28m 6s):
’cause I think the gold line was just finished, but the station was a little bit further

Jim Kumon (28m 9s):
Down. Yeah. It was not quite, yeah. I couldn’t go that far. It didn’t extend until that long after I lived there. Yeah.

Jeff Wood (28m 13s):
Yeah. And we all got together and we had this really fun time and I, I met a bunch of really cool people like you and Faith and, and Mike Lyden and you know, look at everything that everybody’s doing now. And so I know a lot of the folks that listen to the show are younger and they’re looking for, you know, their next move or they’re looking for things to do. But I always encourage people to like, you know, find your people, find your crowd, find the folks that are doing the same things as you. ’cause you in 20 years, if you, you know, you meet those people, then they’ll, they’ll come back on your podcast and talk about all the cool stuff they’re doing. Right. They’ll

Jim Kumon (28m 40s):
Do it. Yeah. No, it’s funny, one of the things that came up along this process talking about education, that was one of the things that Faith and I were talking about. We were on some road trip, kids were asleep in the back and we’re talking about this kind of where we were at. We’re thinking about where we’re gonna do next and so forth. And she’s thinking what she wants to do next in the world. And, and the difference why we went to CNU at the time was that there was, the internet was not the internet we have now. Right? Right. To find this information. There was no other place to go. Right. And that human interaction was thing. Right Now there’s books and there’s internets and you can watch things on YouTube and you can watch Wanni on YouTube 20 years ago still. Like, like that’s the funny, like not only is it there, it’s like the archive, right? Yeah. You can, you can amass if you, if you just graduated from college, you can catch up with, you know, the 2006 CNU lecture that’s archived in some dark hole on the internet.

Jim Kumon (29m 28s):
That wasn’t an option. Then you read a book or two, you know, that you found on island press’s, you know, website or something. But so in a way though, the access to this information and perhaps the overwhelming amount of it actually, actually makes it harder to learn because it’s harder to figure out what, what’s good from bad. It’s harder to interact and socialize around the topics. And so Absolutely. And so I think it’s, especially in a post pandemic kind of, you know, coming back out of the social disorder that, that created us. If you are someone who’s early in your career listening to this nostalgia action that we’re, we’re having today, it, it is interesting and the connections too.

Jim Kumon (30m 8s):
This industry, you know, is a, in any given city is a very small industry, right? And so to make these connections with people in different regions is, is really helpful because for better or for worse, I’ve made a really good living for the last 10 or 15 years, especially repeating myself from, you know, we, we worked in, by the end of my time at Ink Dev, you know, we had worked in 45 states, you know, and trained, you know, several thousand people, right? And I wish I could say this, but it was possible to do that because we more or less had the same problems everywhere. Just a slightly different flavor here or there. And so we could repeat ourselves and, but the solutions, that was the key, right? We were finding different ways to tackle our local flavor of the same problem.

Jim Kumon (30m 51s):
And the question was, what could I cherry pick from Chattanooga and from South Bend and from Kalamazoo, Michigan where I’ve been working a lot in the last five or seven years, you know, and meld it to something new. And that’s the sort of standing joke of my new clients, right? ’cause I’ll start working with somebody and they’re like, Hey, I saw this cool thing on Planet Zen or on NPR whatever. ’cause it is mainstream now. Like people, like nobody saw this stuff back in the day, right? Like our clients never, like there were these hole in the wall like newsletters and you know, if they’re turned on to the, the Jeff Wood Daily Dose, you know, that was like, that’s the only way to find it. Thank God that Jeff Wood is still here doing it. ’cause how would we know? And so, but it’s crazy now because like random people like I interact with see this information, right?

Jim Kumon (31m 34s):
That’s definitely the level of awareness change. And so my clients now, you know, have slightly better thought process about this when they, when they start, they have a lot of better idea of what their wants are, even if they don’t know how to get to it. And so the the funny part is, is that they, they’re not able to like say what they want, but they have a, a thought process about it. And so that’s the joke. It’s like, well let’s look at this case study. Let’s look at this case study. Let’s look at this. Let’s see how, and that’s the part I love to talk about. I have some of this stuff up on my website now. Electric housing, it’s gotta be more intern time. I need some more help with. It’s gotta write some things. The writing things the worst possible thing. Like I have all these cool stories. I’m, I’m so glad we’re doing a podcast and not like a blog post.

Jim Kumon (32m 14s):
’cause I can’t, yeah, that takes 10 times as long. But that’s the cool thing about this learning, right? And that’s what I start with a new client say, Hey, we’re gonna go out and we’re gonna, you know, I have a great new client in, in Denton, Texas, and they’re standing up a development arm in a nonprofit that has a rental portfolio, you know, the a hundred units, but they’ve not done any new construction or any new development really themselves at all. And so they’re having to learn every single step of how to do that. And so I said, okay, well, you know, let’s go look at the pre-pro plans that we helped create in South Bend and let’s talk about the zoning reforms that, that are going on in Kalamazoo that I’m helping with. Let’s talk about, you know, the 180 units of housing that’s Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise built in over five, seven year period on, on infill lots on the east side of downtown.

Jim Kumon (32m 57s):
Like, there are these awesome things that I’ve had a chance to work on. And yet it’s not a, a translated solution, right? It’s like, well, we’re gonna take a little of this, a little that and a little this and you know, we’re gonna take 20% Chattanooga and mix it with 40%. Like I I, I’m a bartender now, I think I’m just like, we’re gonna take some, you know, some bitters and a splash of soda, right? And we have a new cocktail, but that’s functionally what it takes to do real estate, right? And, and that, that’s, that’s the recipe. You have to find a new recipe every time. So it’s been exciting to kind of be able to interact with people in that way. And so I encourage people to do that because I think we got stuck in our rooms quite forcibly for a number of years. And we were just joking right before we started recording about, like, I, I just stopped going to conferences between children and pandemics and so forth.

Jim Kumon (33m 42s):
And I’m like, I’ve just been, I’ve been a hermit just doing my thing. And so it’s good to get out and see what else has been up to the conversations. You can’t find out through Instagram, right? Yeah. There’s, there’s only so many blog posts and, and, and photos that you can make and it doesn’t get to the real story. And that’s what I’m always trying to find out. I’m always trying to find out what the real, the real story is. So it’s fun to maybe get back on the circuit here and chitchat a bit.

Jeff Wood (34m 4s):
Yeah, it’s great. So Jim, where can folks find you if you wish to be found?

Jim Kumon (34m 9s):
Yeah, do do I wish to be found? That’s a, that’s a good question. One of these three companies, most likely, most people are gonna be interested in [email protected]. That’s the 12 plex website. We got a bunch of cool diagrams. Shout out to my awesome part-time collaborator, Maggie Holly, who’s been putting together all these cool diagrams of our sustainability. And if you wanna see how the building came together with these three dimensional SketchUp images, you can see how the cool things we’re doing with the, with the, with the, the 12 plex and then electric housing.com is our sustainability and real estate consulting outfit. And there’s information about some of the things I talked about today with our, our work in Kalamazoo in South Bend and, and other places.

Jim Kumon (34m 49s):
And then last definite pitch, we are at Neighborhood Evolution. My partner’s there, Bernice Rad and Mike Keane. And, and Monnie Anderson just finished up actually yesterday. We wrapped on a collaboration we’re doing with Strong Towns, a video series about, it’s gonna be about three hour video course that’ll be open later this summer. Actually. They’ll be editing here in the next couple months about the 12 steps of town making. And that’s our process to help people. You asked about education, that’s our initial foray to help orient people to, if you wanna do this in your town, whether you wanna be a developer or not, town making is not just being a developer. Town making is the collaborative process of all the people who are involved. And so we are putting out a new workbook, the 12 steps of town making, and you can bring us to your town if you’re interested in creating an ecosystem.

Jim Kumon (35m 36s):
That’s really what this is about. The 12 Steps is about making an ecosystem to people. We have meetup groups in a handful of cities right now who meet monthly to go through the steps one by one, right? So they take one step each month or sometimes they speed it up and do two steps a month and talk through as a, as a place, as a community, Hey, what can we do on this step to create a better place to build cool stuff in our cities? And so that’s coming out here soon. We’ll have the workbook out here later in May. And you can check out either at Strong Towns or our website, neighborhood evolution.com, that educational series and video and in writing.

Jeff Wood (36m 9s):
Awesome. Well, Jim, thanks for joining us. We really appreciate your time.

Jim Kumon (36m 12s):
It’s Been fantastic. I’m so glad we figured out finally we should do this and we shouldn’t make it five years till the next time.

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