HOUSING: To the Victor, the Loss

"I'm a beneficiary of the capitalist system," says George Deffet, the 40-year-old head of a $30 million-a-year construction and real estate development company that he built from scratch in Columbus. Deffet has profited to the tune of a $17 million personal fortune, but he adds: "If the benefits can't be made available to others—because of the color of their skin or whatever—then dammit, our system doesn't work."

Deffet has made the System work for him, despite being that rare builder: an ardent advocate of open housing. As a teenager, he worked two...

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