For 15 years, Harvey Yancey has been building and renovating market-rate homes, affordable housing and commercial spaces in Washington, D.C. During that time, his company, H2DesignBuild, has navigated funding challenges and found its way into beneficial deals.
But all along, Mr. Yancey, who is Black, said he was aware of the industry’s racial homogeneity and the limitations he faced because of his skin color. “It was always the quiet conversation in the room,” he said.
Today, commercial real estate remains a field in which the vast majority of developers are white. Few reliable statistics are available, but the industry association NAIOP reported in a 2013 survey, the most recent year available, that 4.4 percent of commercial real estate professionals were Black. This year, just 5 percent of Urban Land Institute’s members described themselves as Black or African-American.
The disparity has many sources, including many African-Americans’ unfamiliarity with the field and subsequent dearth of connections. But the biggest challenge, Black developers say, is gaining access to capital, including loans, loan guarantees and equity. That may be the result of limited balance sheets, short track records or a lack of wealthy and influential networks. As a result, their firms struggle to grow and remain on the margins as cities around the country see their downtowns reshaped by other, deep-pocketed developers.
overwhelmingly white, though its leaders are pledging to change.
Banking giants like Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, as well as smaller institutions, have announced initiatives totaling billions of dollars that are largely focusing on communities and entrepreneurs of color. Some of the funding is earmarked for affordable housing and commercial development in low-income communities, which will benefit all real estate developers.
Longtime practitioners and analysts in the field say that if new dollars are to redress the industry’s racial imbalance, the funds need to be carefully designed so that more of the money winds up in the hands of Black developers.
In October, JPMorgan Chase announced a $30 billion initiative to advance racial equity that included substantial commitments for minority-led small businesses and Black and Latino households. The announcement also listed $14 billion in new loans and investments over the next five years to expand affordable rental housing in low-income communities.
announced $200 million of equity and financing for affordable housing projects by minority developers.