Ladder is a publishing platform for various picture books and online programs whose mission is to empower over one million children to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews from our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship ecosystem builders, who advance the UN SDGs.

Hi all! I’m Spiffy, your favorite interplanetary reporter reporting on planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making a difference for climate and equality. Today I will learn how Michael Rojas, founder and CEO of EcoHomes LLC, strives to tackle housing inequalities and create lasting solutions for those most at risk. Are you ready to be inspired?

Spicy: Welcome Michael, it’s good to have you here today. Can you start by telling me what challenge you are facing?

Michael: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Did you know that the current housing system does not allow efficient and sustainable development of housing in underserved areas? Municipalities are unable to meet the demand for affordable housing and communities suffer from disconnected initiatives. These problems have been magnified by COVID-19 and will continue to be impacted by climate change. Currently, there are 7.2 million more low-income Americans than there are homes for rent, and the EcoHomes team plans to close that gap.

Spicy: Wow, that sounds like a gap that really needs to be filled! What motivated you to do it?

Michael: BIPOC communities in low-income neighborhoods are heavy on rents and face environmental inequalities. In an effort to tackle climate gentrification, EcoHomes can provide housing, skills and education to enable these communities to generate wealth. To prevent and mitigate the economic damage and potential gentrification that costs low-income residents, EcoHomes will foster meaningful community engagement by partnering with schools and non-profit organizations.

Spicy: How else do you work to make the world a fairer place for people?

Michael: EcoHomes LLC will address these inequalities by acting as determined leaders in the real estate industry. The conventional “fix and return” approach is to buy “cheap” homes, renovate at the lowest cost, and charge tenants with the goal of maximizing profits (gentrification). At EcoHomes LLC, we plan to purchase distressed properties and provide affordable housing by implementing fair-trade green building solutions from frameworks such as LEED, Passive House, WELL and EcoDistricts.

Spicy: Sounds like a solid plan! Can you tell me about the steps you have taken and the kind of impact you hope they will have?

Michael: I am part of a group called Latinxs in Sustainability. The group began as a committee in the professional chapter of the Society of Hispanic Engineers NYC. We recently branched off and formed a tax partnership with a non-profit organization called “Latino Verde”. This new partnership will allow us to apply for grants that will provide scholarships, sponsor certifications for students and create pathway programs for those interested in getting into the field of sustainability.

Spicy: The more people on board, the better! I wonder if you could share an experience where you faced failure and didn’t give up. What have you learned from failure?

Michael: The biggest barrier is scaling up and accessing finance. We have spent the last year participating in different pitch competitions and mentoring programs to try to find a scalable business model. The team changes the business model to incorporate a technology platform that streamlines the green building certification process and serves as a resource center for the green building community. We believe this will open the door to funding opportunities so that we can eventually start to modernize.

Spicy: Before signing, is there anything else you would like to tell our audience?

Michael: The pivotal moment in which I became interested in studying the intersection of engineering and climate change occurred during my semester abroad in Australia. I once saw the One Central Park apartments in Sydney, Australia, which fundamentally changed my perception of what it meant to be an engineer. The building is covered with a vertical plant system, solar panels and mirrors that reflect the sun for maximum energy production. It would be pretty cool to illustrate futuristic buildings covered with thriving ecosystems, powered by renewable energy.

Spicy: With a vivid imagination, anything seems possible! Thank you very much for sitting down to talk to me today, Michael, it has been an honor!

Michael Rojas, crazyand CEO of EcoHomes LLC, is a mechanical engineer interested in the study of the intersection of engineering, goal-oriented entrepreneurship and environmental justice. He is currently studying for an MBA in Sustainability from Bard College with a concentration in Circular Economy and is working to make the built environment fair for all. (Nominated by Action accelerator. First published on the Ladderworks website on October 20, 2021.)

© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Illustration of Spiffy by Shreyas Navare. Follow the interviews of the founders of Spiffy who are building a fairer world here.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.