By Sarah Trefethen
Larry Silverstein, president and CEO of Silverstein Properties, will be the honoree at The Realty Foundation of New York’s 59th annual luncheon on April 18.
Silverstein served as chairman of the foundation for 14 years, before stepping down four years ago.
According to current chairman Jerry Cohen, Silverstein’s tenure encompassed the greatest period of growth for the charity.
“When Larry speaks, everyone listens,” said Patricia Frank, the foundation’s executive director.
The Realty Foundation is dedicated to providing financial aid to brokers in times of hardship. Since it was founded in 1954, it has assisted 835 individuals with grants totaling $3,140,326. More recently, it also started granting scholarships to brokers’ children.
“In the brokerage business, you live in dreams and you die in despair,” Cohen said. “It can be very exciting but it can be very frustrating, because you only get paid when the deal is made, and unlike some sales professions you can’t make a small deal.”
The foundation is a place for members of the real estate community to turn when they have medical bills not covered by insurance, or when they work for years on a deal only to have it fall through and need to pay their rent.
“We’re not a bank, we’re not there to do this on a continuing basis. Our goal is to get people over the rough spots,” Cohen said. “Most brokers will keep going. It’s in their nature.”
The identities of grant recipients are closely held secrets. Any licensed broker who has been active in the New York City real estate community can request a meeting with Frank, who reviews the situation and determines if the foundation can help and the size of the grant. Only one of the 75 board members needs to approve Frank’s decision, according to Cohen.
“The best stories of the great things we’ve done are never told, because it’s anonymous,” he said.
The Realty Foundation gained national attention recently when Frank was profiled in an article in the Wall Street Journal. The article generated a spike in grant applications locally, as well as calls from brokers in other cities who either wanted to apply for a grant or, in at least one case, who wanted advice on how to start a similar organization.
“There’s a definite need out there,” Frank said. “Everyone’s hurting today.”
The foundation was created by real estate titans including Harry Helmsley, Jack Weiler and William Zeckendorff Jr. Today, Cohen said, he’s gratified to see a younger generation of industry leaders becoming active in the charity – spurred, in part, by the reality check of the recent recession.
The mission statement contains a clear call to action:“In our profession you can never tell when you may need the Realty Foundation, and until you do, Realty Foundation needs you.”