At 54, Don Peebles, mentored as a young man by the late, controversial Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry, has made a fortune — literally — in an almost noble way: developing housing in impoverished areas.
His heart, however, has been in politics for more than three decades, and he hinted at running for mayor of a major city in the coming years. In the meantime, he continues to build his dynasty.
Forbes estimates that Peebles’ net worth is at more than $700 million, with the chance of reaching $1 billion because of several nine-figure developments already underway. One of the most successful Black CEOs in the country, he commonly builds apartments valued at more than $10 million alongside redevelopment projects in some of the most impoverished areas in cities across the East.
“The projects we tend to be attracted to are those that have greater impact, greater symbolism,” Peebles said. “Our No. 1 focus is that our buildings are vehicles or symbols of opportunity. Our goal is to develop projects that transform communities.”
Peebles grew up in D.C.’s Petworth neighborhood, once an area of strife that is now gentrified. After a stint in Detroit, Peebles returned to D.C. and worked as a page on Capitol Hill and volunteered on political campaigns. When he was 24, Barry, who died last year, appointed Peebles to be chairman of the real estate tax appeal board.
Peebles dropped out of Rutgers and initiated his first development project in the Southeast D.C. neighborhood of Anacostia, “once a thriving commercial quarter destroyed by the 1968 riots.” Abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ last home is in that area.
He once sought to be mayor of D.C. but bowed out to support his wife when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. His political aspirations did not fade away; they were only muted.
He is vice chairman of the board of the Congressional Black Caucus and is on President Barack Obama’s National Finance Committee.
But he told Forbes he seeks “another challenge.” He has residency in D.C., Miami and New York, giving him three options.
“Mayor of New York sounds like an interesting job,” he said. “So does mayor of Washington, D.C.”