Developing Sustainable Communities with Elston Blake Forte

Partners for Better Housing real estate development manager, DEI Development Group CEO, Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation Chair, and Entegrity Business Development Executive, Elston Blake Forte discusses sustainable development and community connections in an interview with Payton Willhite.

Elston Blake Forte, real estate development manager for Partners for Better Housing , chairman and CEO of the DEI Development Group, chairman of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation, and Business Development Executive with Entegrity uses his extensive history in non-profit, corporate, and public sectors to pursue social change through community building. The former Razorback football player understands the importance of teamwork when it comes to real estate development and credits his expanding network of community partners and mentors for much of his success.

“I am definitely grateful for mentors and advisors that have committed time to helping me understand a variety of real estate development and general community building concepts. I’ve gained a unique understanding of how to structure partnerships and pull together groups who have a desire to accomplish the same goal,” said Forte. “I’m always thinking about how all groups engaged in a project can benefit, and that attracts potential partners. When we think about building communities, we have to think about the many individual parts that create the whole from a multitude of angles. That's what I'm truly passionate about, connectivity, sustainable community design, and impact.”

Forte received a Bachelor’s in Sociology from the University of Arkansas, but had dreamt of being a community developer since high school EAST Lab, where he had begun to virtually design communities which sparked a love similar to the love he had for sports. It wasn’t until he began his non-profit and public sector work with Pulaski County Youth Programs, though, that he truly understood the impact that housing stability can have on a person.

“A lot of the kids in these programs weren’t able to take full advantage of the information we were giving them because of the environments they were returning to at the end of the day,” said Forte. “That was a moment of realization for me and pushed me to explore community development in order to address this issue at the root – the communities in which these young people lived. A clear path to real estate development came from there as I considered revitalization projects. I quickly realized I could bring a different perspective to the real estate industry with my understanding of community programming, so I jumped in headfirst to learn as much about real estate and real estate development as possible.”

Forte began to work with public and private landowners, helping them to leverage their assets, secure financing, and structure unique joint ventures that emphasize impact. Forte always notes community need and profitability before beginning any project, along with the environmental, social, and economic impact of a development on an area. This allows him to balance the economic productivity of an investment while still improving the community.

Forte is the Chairman and CEO of the DEI Development Group LLC, a real estate advisory firm that works with public and private property owners and investors to create catalytic development projects that address community, employee, and environmental needs. “For the diversity, equity, and inclusion element of the group, we focus on diversifying general contractors, subcontractors, and consultants, and being intentional as far as helping these groups build capacity and connect to additional opportunities,” said Forte.

“The ultimate plan also has to include generational wealth creation, and positioning individuals to find a path to asset ownership”. His work at Partners for Better Housing [PFBH] is a key component to helping individuals find the path to individual wealth building, and also allows him to incorporate unique design strategies into the organization’s mission to develop mixed income communities throughout Northwest Arkansas. Forte noted, “PFBH places an emphasis on individual housing needs through human centered design rather than general community needs alone. This approach plays a major role in maximizing direct impact and I’m excited about the nonprofit organization’s future as we include this strategy in the current community we’re building”.

Forte has brought his passion for sustainable community building to the Northwest Arkansas area and is working with Groundwork officials to promote housing attainability within the area. He brings an invaluable voice of experience to a region experiencing rising housing disparity, promoting positive changes that address the needs of individual communities and the general environment.

Written by: Payton Willhite