Jair K. Lynch: Move Fast and Build Things

For anyone who knew Jair as a kid, it’s no surprise he would grow up to be a builder of cities. Legos were his favorite toy. He’d fill up whole tables with Lego cities. He was academically inclined, athletic and competitive.

Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners has grown to be one of the city’s most illustrious investment and development firms. Founded in 1998, the firm can claim some iconic accomplishments like the Kelvin and the eNvy projects at Nat’s Park or the Anthology project and follow on projects with office and retail at the hub of the H Street corridor.

But he says the team’s proudest achievement is redeveloping on behalf the DC Public Library Martin Luther King, Jr. Library that opened in September. “Libraries have become part of our collective social infrastructure,” Jair says, “and working on it has been a joy.”

Located in the heart of downtown and the culmination of 15 years-worth of citywide library renovations, it is the crown jewel central branch of the city’s library system.

It is so much more than a traditional library. There are dance studios, video gaming nooks, a slide for kids, computer programming and 3D printing labs, tool rentals and desks with reps from the DMV or DOES to help DC residents go through paperwork or apply for benefits. There’s a new auditorium, roof deck and conference space. It’s designed so there is something for every DC resident from all Wards, whether they have a GED or PhD.

His parents would be especially proud. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, his father was a professor of political science at schools such as Howard University, University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. His mother, originally from Bogota Colombia, was an economist at Organization of American States, the World Bank and the IDB.

DC is Jair’s hometown. He went to Shephard Elementary and then to Sidwell Friends. He played all kinds of sports growing up. Gymnastics stuck, and he elected to attend Stanford University where he captained the men’s gymnastics team to back-to-back NCAA national championships. He would then go on to win a silver medal at the 1996 Olympics in parallel bars.

He graduated with degrees in civil engineering and urban design and was also a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University. After college he worked in corporate real estate in Silicon Valley in the early days of the tech boom. “People really thought they could change the world.”

He wanted to bring that world view and expertise back home to DC. When he launched his company, the winds of change had just begun to flow in a better direction. There was a new mayor, a Control Board that wanted to reinvest in neighborhood assets and serious moves to fix the public education system.

And he wanted to bring a new kind of developer ethos to the city—one that more carefully constructed neighborhoods beyond a singular building or asset class, and one that cultivated spaces between buildings rather than just inside them. What he cared most about was “placemaking,” which includes parks, retail and the people (their histories and stories) who walk among it. This is all built into his firm’s business model.

His team is committed to positive social change in their daily work. Being a committed member and listener of the community is “part of the job description of working here.” They often aim to invest and complete multiple projects in one neighborhood so that the components work better in tandem.

In one example, after his team delivered the branch library in Hillcrest, they purchased the nearby Penn Branch shopping center for upgrades and hope to develop additional affordable housing as well.

Many of their clients have also been committed to social change: KIPP Public Charter School, Friendship Public Charter School, Unity Health, Mary’s Center, Community of Hope, Capital Area Food Bank and Bread for the City.

Jair is set on being a part of the solution to one of the nation’s biggest problems—housing affordability. In the past 18 months, the firm launched an attainable housing initiative, which has exceeded expectations and has purchased or have under control over $400 M of new acquisitions that will preserve affordable and workforce housing in the region. The team will break ground this year on a new senior affordable housing project at the Takoma Metro Station.

When Jair joined the Federal City Council in 2008, he was one of two people under the age of 40. Fellow Trustee Linda Rabbitt encouraged him to jump into leadership roles, and he’s now Co-Chair of the Transportation Committee where he helps think through what the city could look like decades ahead. He’s grateful to serve in a way that channels his interest to where he can be most impactful in long-term city planning.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced” –  James Baldwin