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Michael Glasser, There When We Need Him

One of my first questions when I write a Member profile is always, “how did you get involved in the Rogers Park Builders Group organization?” Almost invariably, the answer is some variant on, “Mike Glasser got me interested and brought me in.”

So, when I started interviewing Mike about his way to our organization, I was genuinely interested in how he found us and got involved. Of course, in Mike’s case, “getting involved” hardly does justice to what Mike has done for the organization, and for small and medium-sized apartment owners across the neighborhood, city and region.

The short answer to how Mike found his way to RPBG is simple – he told me he joined “one week and one day” before Carla Price. (The great rivalry about who the founding members truly were will never die, nor will it ever be definitively settled!) In truth, Mike’s involvement in RPBG was a little more complicated than that, and did come very early in the organization’s existence.

To understand how Mike got involved in real estate, Rogers Park and all the things that define the person we have come to know and love today, you have to go back a little further into his family history. Mike would tell you that it all really started with his grandfather who, as a young Jewish man in 1920s Germany began to see signs that his future life in the old country was going to be more challenging than he expected, and that he might have to take dramatic steps to ensure that he could live the life he wanted, both for himself and for his family.

Mike’s grandfather had two big Eureka moments in his young adulthood in Weimar Germany. The first came in the 1920s. The country had just emerged from World War I, defeated and diminished after the devastating war. Throughout the decade, inflation grew from an inconvenience to an all-out catastrophe, rendering the national currency essentially worthless. We’ve all seen the old newsreels of Germans wheeling bushel barrels of money around to buy bread. This was Mike’s grandfather’s reality 100 years ago.

Mike’s grandfather took an important lesson from what he saw – money can be made worthless very easily while hard assets preserve their value. “They don’t call it REAL estate for nothing,” he used to tell Mike and his siblings.

The second Eureka moment was what the country’s WWI defeat and rampant inflation brought on – the rise of Hitler and the Nazi movement. Many people in the country were fearful as this movement picked up steam. But, for the country’s Jewish citizens, it became increasingly apparent that this movement was an existential threat to their very survival.

Mike’s grandfather had the presence of mind to see the writing on the wall before many of his countrymen. He left Germany by the mid-1930s. As things deteriorated rapidly and World War II began, he began trying to get the rest of his family out of the country and to safety. His ex-wife and two daughters (of which Mike’s mom was one) witnessed the horrors of Kristallnacht and, equipped with visas, let for Santiago, Chile three days later. Years later, shortly after the war ended, Mike’s grandfather arranged for his daughters to join him in Chicago. (Reaching US soil prior to their 18th birthdays allowed Mike’s mom and aunt to immediately become US citizens.)

Like a lot of immigrants to America, Mike’s grandfather recognized the opportunity and the second chance his newly adopted homeland offered. His family made their living in the leather business in Germany and he used these skills to start a manufacturing company in Chicago. A contract with the US Army making gloves for the military helped fuel his company’s growth. The business was successful and he began to invest some of its profits into other hard assets, especially apartment buildings in the city. He remembered all too well what can happen to the value of money. He wanted assets with real value and decided there was no better option than real estate.

Later, Mike’s mom took over the management of these real estate assets from her father. When she tragically passed away in 1988, Mike took the reins of the property management business himself – good timing as he had already decided to transition out of his law practice. Mike then started to grow the portfolio by buying additional rental properties in Chicago and, especially, in DuPage County.

Mike’s first acquisitions were in Rogers Park right around 1990. He said he learned how to do real estate investment by making every imaginable mistake. Rogers Park 30 years ago was a lot different than it is today, and his new acquisitions faced a lot of challenges, many of which were due to conditions in the neighborhood itself.

Mike and a group of like-minded investors believed one way to solve these problems was by promoting the neighborhood itself and touting its many charms. Even then, Rogers Park was a diverse and vibrant community with great infrastructure, a wide range of housing, easy transportation to the downtown area, and a spectacular lakefront. What it didn’t have was anyone promoting these assets. It also suffered from too little investment and inattentive housing providers who were not screening their tenants, allowing people into the neighborhood who did nothing to make it a better place to live.

Thus was born Rogers Park Builders Group with Mike one of the early, and certainly most enthusiastic, members. The rest, you could say, is history.

But let’s talk a little about that history since Mike played such a formative role in shaping it. Anyone who knows Mike – and that is literally everyone in our group and lots of other people beside – knows that he is a social guy who excels in group settings and is not afraid to reach out to new people. In short, Mike is a classic extravert – and our group has benefited mightily as a result.

Mike’s first role in the newly formed RPBG was to work on membership. His outgoing personality made him a magnet for recruiting others to the group. Mike’s belief in the organization and love of neighborhood – where he has lived, on and off, for much of his adult life – made it that much easier to be the unofficial RPBG ambassador.

Mike’s leadership skills, energy and enthusiasm made him stand out. He became RPBG’s third president, following founder Paul Goguen and Mike Wallk, a position he kept for six years in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 2018, Mike became President again, a position he retains to this day.

Between his terms as President, Mike was never very far from the action. He and a small handful of dedicated members were always hard at work behind the scenes to ensure that the group survived and thrived. Mike has always played a key role in finding new members and making them feel vested in the organization. He has also expanded his Rolodex (and later his Outlook program) over the years to include an amazing array of elected officials and other stakeholders, not just in Rogers Park but really across the Chicago region.

Mike was only two years into his second term as President when 2020 happened and the entire world changed. For housing providers, these changes were nothing short of earth-shattering and, for a while, looked like the sort of existential crisis that threatened our very survival.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Mike rose to the challenge of these trying times and truly met the moment. What had previously been a fun and social role with his housing industry buddies suddenly became an all-out effort to save a threatened industry. These threats came from the near economic collapse of the US economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the utter social turmoil and destruction that followed in the wake of the despicable murder of George Floyd, and the increasingly hostile and punitive role that government plays in our industry, particularly at the local and state level. This included a revived focus on making rent control legal in Illinois, followed by a series of eviction moratoria and extensions throughout the COVID-19 period.

With tenants losing jobs and unable to pay rent, and others (for both legitimate and opportunistic reasons) staying months and months in apartments without fear of eviction, housing providers faced unprecedented challenges to their businesses and extreme pressure on all fronts as they struggled to survive.

While this period was a disaster for our industry, it can also be said that it was Mike’s finest hour. His twin roles as President of RPBG and the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance (NBOA) gave him a platform to bring people together like never before. He quickly adapted to an all online world with nearly weekly NBOA Zoom meetings, discussing whatever challenge had just been dropped in all of our laps. He added professional lobbyists and PR expertise to the NBOA fold, ramping up fundraising to pay for all these new services to levels no one had previously thought possible.

Throughout it all, he was a master at bringing people together from the private sector, government and non-profit worlds to work on solutions to the vast problems uncovered by the pandemic. And he did it all with an uncanny ability to keep everyone focused while injecting just enough humor and levity to keep us all smiling through the hard times.

Honestly, there is probably no one who could have done all of this better (or done it at all) and with the compassion and energy that only Mike could muster. He played a huge role in getting us through something that many thought would be our demise.

Of course, COVID may be largely behind us but the challenges keep coming. The ever leftward drift of city, county and state government in Illinois has made it harder and harder to get politicians at all levels to take into consideration the legitimate concerns and viewpoints of our industry. If anything, the level of animosity towards housing providers only seems to grow as some opportunistic legislators use us as the bogyman standing in the way of a just and equitable society. Housing, they say, is a human right – but they neglect to come up with realistic ways that this important but precious resource can be created, maintained and otherwise paid for.

In the post-COVID era, Mike increasingly sees RPBG as playing an important role in bringing housing providers together, to talk, network, exchange ideas, and just generally support each other through these difficult times.

NBOA, as Mike sees it, will increasingly play the role of educator and advocate for not just RPBG, but for all ten housing provider groups that have joined the organization and that look to it for leadership and as a voice of reason against the legislative onslaught from the far left.

Mike continues to work diligently to bring people together, both within RPBG and across the city and region, through his efforts at NBOA. Of course, being the social butterfly he is, he has cemented relationships across the region and is particularly proud of his efforts to broaden the coalition into communities of color.

Of all Mike’s accomplishments, it is helping small owners in disadvantaged communities – often people who are themselves the products of those communities – find their voice and connect with Alderpersons, Commissioners, state legislators and other important elected officials.

This has hugely benefited our industry. Under Mike’s leadership, the NBOA has worked hard to dispelled the image of housing providers as nothing but a bunch of faceless fat-cats in wealthy suburbs or drones working for profit-driven corporations.

Small and mid-sized owners are just that – people who have worked hard, saved a little money, bought a few rental units and worked to turn those investments into future cash flow and generational wealth for their kids and grandkids. They also care greatly about the communities where they have invested. This is a message that many in the political world fail to recognize – perhaps because it does not conveniently fit with their “us” vs. “them” worldview and the political expediency of dividing rather than uniting.

Mike is a true believer in what the RPBG stands for and the values it upholds – at its foundation, RPBG is a group of people who have put their money where their communities are, want to learn the trade and be the best housing providers and developers they can be. And, yes, RPBG members want fair consideration from the elected officials who represent them. This is a position of fairness and decency that Mike does not shy away from and on which he will not compromise.

We all owe him a debt of gratitude for his clarity of vision and his willingness to put in the long hours it takes to try to make this vision a reality. Right now, it’s hard to predict if he will succeed in his effort. But one thing we know for sure – without him on our side, our chances of success would be greatly diminished.




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