From his humble beginnings in rural West Texas, Gilbert Gerst has become a fixture in the North Texas banking community, a voice for the underserved, and a tireless philanthropist.
He knows well what a lack of opportunities and services can do to a community and of the doors they open when they’re available.
Gerst has made it his mission to help disadvantaged residents of Dallas through his day job at BOK Financial and through nonprofit volunteer organizations. He wants to be part of the solution in everything he does.
“[My mother] gave me the passion to want to serve the community,” Gerst says. “We all make time for what’s important to us. These things are important to me.”
At BOK Financial, he’s a senior vice president and the manager of the Community Development Group, which means he oversees real estate financing for low-income-housing tax credit projects, nonprofit lending, and tax credit equity.
“My goal for the bank is to make sure that the products and services are available to the low- to moderate-income people,” Gerst says.
He joined BOK Financial in 2011 after more than 25 years at JPMorgan Chase and its predecessor, where much of his work was in the same vein.
Much of his days are spent on construction financing for multi-family projects—many contain affordable housing.
One of the biggest challenges low- to moderate-income people face now is affordable housing. For example, in Trinity Groves, new development has pushed up property taxes for longtime residents and, in some cases, priced them out entirely.
“Prices are elevating. We’ve got to find a way to balance that out because obtaining housing is a challenge,” Gerst says. “For too many people, housing is 50 percent of their income.”
Gerst brings his perspective to The Real Estate Council, where he helped start a community loan fund that offers more flexible lending criteria for real estate loans.
“We can share the challenges we face in our line of business, and interact with other areas, such as retail real estate,” Gerst says. “It also helps me to know what we as a bank need to be doing in that segment of the community.”
His community involvement goes beyond banking and real estate. For the last 15 years, Gerst has volunteered for Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas, where he helps workers who are underemployed, unemployed, or don’t have marketable skills.
“We get them the skills to be self-sufficient, whether they are a youth or a seasoned employee who got laid off and needs to reinvent themselves,” Gerst says.
He’s also a trustee and a deacon at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Oak Cliff, where he has an opportunity to develop some land to give back to the community. Gerst’s knowledge and skills as a real estate banker have been invaluable. Modestly, he turns the credit back toward the church.
“Churches are realizing they can have greater impact outside the four walls,” he says.
For the last 20 years he’s been on the board for Dallas Black Dance Theatre. He’s been the chairman since 2012.
He’s also involved in Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity, the AT&T Performing Arts Center, and the State Fair of Texas.
Gerst’s work with so many nonprofits and The Real Estate Council only benefits BOK Financial, he says.
“They are very supportive of what I do and the mission that the bank has from a community perspective,” he says. “I’ve never had any pushback on anything that we want to do that benefits the community.”