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Building the Future: Jason Contreras

It’s very easy to engage CPM® Candidate Jason Contreras in conversation. In fact, at a luncheon or other IREM event, he’s likely to engage you first. “I have no trouble walking into a room and chatting with people,” he admits. That’s the secret to how he turned an accident into a career in property management. It’s also his solution to opening doors of diversity. First, some background.

Like many professionals, the 38-year-old will tell you, “I stumbled into this industry.” As a student at the University of Houston (his major was accounting), Contreras kept body and soul together by door-to-door sales. One of the doors he “stumbled into was a multifamily building,” he recalls, and given his outgoing nature, after hearing there was a job opening, he essentially walked out with an entry-level property management position.

He graduated in 2010, and over the years worked his way up to company controller. Seeking more fertile opportunities, he moved to commercial real estate in February of last year, and today finds himself as operations analyst for REIS Associates LLC, a Houston-based firm with some 800,000 square feet of assets under management.

If he left multifamily behind for a career in commercial, one vital component of his time on the residential side has remained. That was when he discovered the local IREM® chapter. 

“My boss and I were in agreement that we needed to raise the profile of our company and build its overall professionalism,” he recalls. When he saw the educational courses that the chapter offered, he was intrigued.

And when he attended his first meeting, he was hooked. “I felt like I was home . . . with people I didn’t know the day before.”

But IREM gave him more than a feeling of being home. “One of the biggest challenges I faced when I was starting out was being able to afford the educational classes and luncheons,” he recalls, then points to the IREM Foundation, through which he was able to receive scholarships toward CPM certification, allowing him to engage in the various educational and social sessions that have helped him forward his career. 

Financial issues are a personal thing, of course. But Contreras says he’s an open book, and “There are people who are now in the position I was in when I started, and I want them to be aware of the options for growth available to them.”

 

Of comfort zones and leadership

The comfort level that Contreras encountered at his first IREM meeting is an interesting statement since, in a curious sense, this self-proclaimed people person is an advocate for discomfort. Chair of the Houston Chapter’s DEI Committee and a 2022 Leader in the international organization’s Diversity & Inclusion Succession Initiative (DISI), Contreras believes that we have to face our discomforts, get them out on the table, and move on to make progress.

“So many people walk on eggshells in their office,” he states, “afraid of what they might say. For example, there are so many categories within the umbrella term ‘Hispanic descent.’ Everyone is worried that someone might be offended if they say the wrong thing.”

Contreras believes in shining a light on those areas of discomfort. And one way that he’s tried to accomplish that is through chapter-level “supper-club” meetings, where attendees can speak openly, without fear of reprimand or judgment, on any topic of diversity they wish. 

But the question remains: How to foster that sense of openness in the work environment. “It starts with leadership,” he states. “History tells us that change doesn’t happen overnight. True change will come from someone in a leadership role who’s willing to implement that change, to be that person and model diversity, equity, and inclusion for their teams. I’m fortunate to work for REIS Associates, where our ownership has been intentional about creating a very diverse talent pool and environment.”

When asked if he believes, to a certain extent, that change is a generational thing, he answers frankly: “Yes, but how many more years will we have to wait? Someone in leadership today needs to step up and say, ‘Now is the time,’ and I’m doing my best to use my voice to do so here and now.’”

And while there is still time to go, that voice is bound to get stronger. Be it five or 10 more years, Contreras sees himself ultimately “as a company president or CEO. I want my legacy to be exemplified by someone coming to me and saying, ‘Because of you, I didn’t give up.’”

Comments

Jason, you are an inspiration and such an asset not only to IREM Houston but to the real estate industry as a whole. Thank you for your leadership and your voice!

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