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Jaime Lee: ‘Superstar’ Koreatown real estate revivalist

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Jaime Lee
Jaime Lee, photographed at the Los Angeles Times in El Segundo on Sept. 5.

Outside a high-rise apartment tower her family company was building on Wilshire Boulevard, Jaime Lee pulled a hard hat, shatterproof glasses and safety vest from cargo space behind a car seat for one of her three young children.

Wearing thick-soled Gucci boots that complemented her dress, she took a guest up the outdoor construction elevator with the top two bosses on site, also women.

Discover the changemakers who are shaping every cultural corner of Los Angeles. L.A. Influential brings you the moguls, politicians, artists and others telling the story of a city constantly in flux.

As chief executive of the Jamison group of companies, Lee, 39, is one of L.A.’s most prolific builders of new apartments, especially in Koreatown, where her family firm has been based since 1994. During the interview, she tooled around the neighborhood pointing out building after building by Jamison, which has developed 5,900 multifamily units in the city.

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Among them are seven former office towers that have been converted to housing, a process other longtime office owners are contemplating as the post-COVID-lockdown commercial rental market stalls. Some competitors come to Jamison for guidance on how to navigate the process that is still rare for underused mid-20th century offices.

She’s frustrated that Los Angeles falls woefully short every year at building enough housing to meet demand, driving up the cost of housing.

“The fewer units that are built, the more rents tend to rise,” Lee said. “There is a desperate need for moderate-income housing.”

Jamison strives to build units for a wide range of income levels, she said: “We have affordable, low-income and higher-end — and everything in between.”

Jaime Lee

She’s used to sticking out a little, growing up in what she calls a “nondiverse” neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley.

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“It wasn’t desirable to be Korean when I was a kid,” she said. “The food was funny, the language was funny.”

Lee has often been the only Asian woman serving on civic and nonprofit boards of directors. Her volunteer service has included the Board of Harbor Commissioners for the Port of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System Board of Administration, and the Board of Trustees for USC, where she earned undergraduate and law degrees.

Lee is on a path to even more prominent civic leadership, people who know her said.

“She’s certainly a superstar for this city,” said real estate magnate Rick Caruso, who serves with her on the USC board. “I think her road is really endless.”

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