Keith Labus of KTGY: “You don’t have to be an advocate for affordable housing, but don’t be a roadblock”
July 17, 2021
You don’t have to be an advocate for affordable housing, but don’t be a roadblock. If you want to be an advocate, encourage your local officials to make the path to approval for well-designed affordable developments that enhance your community easier. The financial challenges are great enough without the added difficulty of bureaucracy and politics…
In many large cities in the US, there is a crisis caused by a shortage of affordable housing options. This has led to a host of social challenges. In this series called “How We Are Helping To Make Housing More Affordable” We are talking to successful business leaders, real estate leaders, and builders, who share the initiatives they are undertaking to create more affordable housing options in the US.
As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Keith Labus.
Keith Labus is principal at KTGY, a leading architecture and design firm focused on residential, retail, mixed-use developments and neighborhood revitalization. Founded in 1991, KTGY is one of the nation’s leading residential firms by revenue. Envisioning a future where residential and hospitality design inform one another to deliver spaces that merge design and desire, KTGY is a full-service architecture, branding, interior and planning firm with six offices across the U.S. A licensed architect in California and LEED Accredited Professional, Keith offers his clients over 25 years of award-winning planning and design experience, and is a sought-after speaker on a number of housing issues, including ways to make the design of these developments more affordable.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
When I was a kid, I was always drawing and building things out of whatever scrap material I could find. I remember watching the Brady Bunch and thinking “I can get paid to do this?” When it came time to choose a major in college, I didn’t really consider a degree in anything else except architecture. 25 years later, I would do it all over again.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Early in my career I had the opportunity to work on some unique projects, including two properties in Las Vegas for the Sultan of Brunei who, at the time, was supposedly the richest man in the world. These were sprawling estates that costs hundreds of millions of dollars . . . and he was never really expected to set foot in them! The story was they were completely staffed and maintained just in case one of his friends like Michael Jackson needed a place to stay in Las Vegas.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have been fortunate to work for, and with, many caring and talented people who have helped shape my career. Some of them shared their time and knowledge which helped me develop the skills needed for my job while others trusted me, sometimes more than they should have, forcing me out of my comfort zone and making me more confident and resourceful. I think everybody needs both types of people in their career to reach their full potential.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
While I’m not a risk taker by nature, like many people, my nature was to stay within my comfort zone to avoid failing. It wasn’t until I became comfortable with failing that I started to see real success which gave me confidence to do even more. You can apply this to all areas of your life.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the shortage of affordable housing. Lack of affordable housing has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities. I know this is a huge topic, but for the benefit of our readers can you briefly explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?
It’s hard to say how we got here. I’ve heard everything from bad legislation to social and economic factors, escalating construction costs to a shortage of materials and skilled labor in the construction industry and demand simply outpacing supply as a result of the 2008 recession. It feels like all of these factors have contributed to the crisis we’re in.
The challenge will be to figure it out so we don’t end up here again in the future because everyone needs adequate, safe and affordable housing.
Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact to address this crisis? Can you share some of the initiatives you are leading to help correct this issue?
KTGY is always searching for better. One of the things that sets us apart from other firms is our R+D studio, which is dedicated to developing new residential concepts as well as a construction innovation committee that shares information regarding the latest building technologies with the goal of bringing forward the most thoughtful and cost-effective design concepts possible. These concepts can be utilized across the housing spectrum but can be most impactful in the area of affordable housing.
Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?
After designing affordable housing for over 20 years, I still get the most satisfaction from seeing the impact our built communities have on the lives of the people that live in them and the surrounding communities as well. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to see the father and disabled sister of a close family friend qualify and move into a brand-new affordable community we designed. Seeing firsthand the positive change that made in their lives and the burden it lifted off my friend’s shoulders is something I will never forget.
Can you share what the community and society can do to help you address the root of this crisis? Can you give some examples?
Too many times I’ve heard, “I’m all for affordable housing, but just not in this location.”
You don’t have to be an advocate for affordable housing, but don’t be a roadblock. If you want to be an advocate, encourage your local officials to make the path to approval for well-designed affordable developments that enhance your community easier. The financial challenges are great enough without the added difficulty of bureaucracy and politics.
If you had the power to influence legislation, are there laws which you would like to see introduced that might help you in your work?
There is a lot of new legislation that is meant to provide a clearer and more expedited path for the development of affordable housing. However, recent experience has shown that the implementation of that legislation has been left to the interpretation of developer’s and city’s attorneys creating an adversarial relationship even though both sides may share the same goal of creating affordable housing. I would like to see some funding put toward mandatory education about this legislation so it can be implemented the same way everywhere.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
“Everything is your fault.”
No matter who made the mistake, you are ultimately accountable for fixing it. I learned quickly my time is better spent up front mentoring and reviewing work than trying to fix it after the fact.
“Learn to delegate.”
You can’t, nor should you try to, do everything yourself. Allow people to make mistakes and learn from them, but make sure to catch them before it’s too late.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would like to see our largest corporations take on the issues of affordable housing and homelessness. The combination of logistical knowledge and philanthropic funding of construction and design innovation could help develop solutions for this crisis we talk about everyday. This could not just change the lives of those most affected, but in the long run could lower government spending and possibly lower taxes for everyone.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
I’ll add on to my previous statement. Jeff Bezos, if you’re reading this and are up for trying to solve the affordable housing crisis, let’s do breakfast.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Visit us at https://ktgy.com/ to learn more about our affordable housing work and diverse portfolio of residential, mixed-use, retail and hospitality developments, and follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter to see our work in action.
Biannually, KTGY also curates a magazine called EXPAND, which showcases our projects and design work. Our most recent issue was deployed June 1 and can be accessed here.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.