The Upton neighborhood in West Baltimore is famous for its role as one of the city’s earliest and most vibrant African American neighborhoods. Many of Baltimore’s civil rights and cultural icons — including Thurgood Marshall and Cab Calloway — have lived among its historic row houses. One hundred years ago it was an economic, political and cultural center of the city’s Black community, and its architectural landmarks remain in proximity to jobs, schools, churches, subways and bus lines.
As this area emerges from decades of discrimination and neglect, programs are underway to ensure a diverse range of voices are participating in its revival. One such initiative is Enterprise Community Development’s Let’s Build Accelerator (LBA), which is focused on creating more inclusive communities by getting Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), and neighborhood-based and faith-based developers all to participate together in community development. This accelerator is uniquely focused on ensuring that the economic rewards of developments are fairly shared with the neighborhood-led partners who have helped envision the projects.
It’s clear that we need more BIPOC developers across the country. An Urban Land Institute report found that just 5% of its members were people of color. And 2021 Knight Foundation-commissioned research found that only 1.4% of more than $82 trillion dollars of U.S.-based assets is managed by diverse-owned firms (Black or women-owned). Enterprise’s Equitable Path Forward is also focused on dismantling the legacy of racism in housing by investing in housing providers who are deeply engaged in their own communities.
BIPOC developers face greater challenges in obtaining equity financing — essential to closing the deal — than do white developers. Historic inequalities mean that access to equity, including investments from friends, family or private firms, can be harder for Black developers to obtain than bank credit.
And yet there are multiple benefits to having BIPOC developers involved in real estate deals in their local communities, including their knowledge of specific neighborhoods, as well as their social, cultural, religious or residential ties to communities, which can help inform and inspire their real estate decisions.
For all these reasons, Enterprise is doubling-down on Baltimore’s Upton neighborhood — and others like it — by making it one of its first Let’s Build Accelerator projects.
Work is underway on Upton Gateway, a 38-unit mixed-income homeownership development in this historic neighborhood. Enterprise Community Development is partnering with Harrison Development — whose principal, Dean Harrison, once lived in the neighborhood and retains ties there — to develop and finance phase two of (and eventually phase three) of this project. Harrison Development company is committed to refashioning vacant and abandoned row houses into modern, stylish and community-enhancing for-sale homes.
Enterprise has invested more than $70 million in this neighborhood over the past two decades. This includes more than $9 million in the past five years in updates to its affordable rental apartments at Heritage Crossing, located just a few steps away from Harrison Development’s work.
Baltimore City is supporting projects like this one, with subsidies for homebuyers and financing for the renovations. As further proof of the area’s revitalization, Baltimore-based Afro News is moving to the Upton neighborhood, into the historic Upton Mansion, which has previously housed a radio station, the Baltimore Institute of Musical Arts and the Upton School.
A similar project is underway in Washington, D.C. Enterprise Community Development is teaming with Mustafa Durrani of Durrani Development on the construction of a new, energy-efficient $47 million, 86-unit affordable-housing community along Alabama Avenue in the Randle Heights neighborhood in Ward 8. This project features the removal of a vacant, dilapidated, former rehab facility and replaces blocks known for neglect and disinvestment with new development that can serve as beacons of hope and inclusive change.
These projects — and the Let’s Build Accelerator that supports them — are designed to get more BIPOC developers to the next level of their careers by delivering three key resources they need: supportive mentors, financial backing and collaborative partners.
We are working to expand who can benefit financially from real estate deals while increasing the availability of crucial services and resources to traditionally challenged urban communities. We encourage other organizations to follow our lead.
Shelynda Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org) is vice president of real estate for Enterprise Community Development.