Chicago needs more Black, Brown real estate developers

Adelicia Caree

The lack of Black and Brown real estate owners isn’t the only problem; it’s also the lack of Black and Brown developers. Developers of color understand their neighborhoods and the kinds of projects their communities need, but they often lack the resources to make it happen, like access to capital […]

The lack of Black and Brown real estate owners isn’t the only problem; it’s also the lack of Black and Brown developers. Developers of color understand their neighborhoods and the kinds of projects their communities need, but they often lack the resources to make it happen, like access to capital and the right connections. 

Here in Chicago, we are part of an effort to change the face of the real estate industry by attacking that problem at its source. Yield, a partnership between LISC Chicago and Urban Land Institute (ULI) Chicago, is identifying, mentoring and funding entrepreneurs of color who have plans to develop within their South and West Side neighborhoods. This program, funded by JPMorgan Chase and the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, has already launched its first cohort of emerging developers who are paired with seasoned developers from the ULI membership community to build a network of shared learning. Every member of the cohort will be exposed to ideas about evaluating and executing on opportunities.

Yield isn’t just about mentorship or launching individual projects; it’s about creating a think tank around a vision of development that catapults Chicago’s land use to a more inclusive, equitable and just outcome and accelerates our economy’s post-COVID recovery. Our inaugural cohort has big plans, from a cold-storage facility on the West Side to mixed-use projects in residential neighborhoods and a community hub for the arts in a former school on the South Side.

There is no doubt that Chicago is the right city for this initiative, because for so much of the 20th century it was on the wrong side of history. Housing discrimination and segregation through racial covenants and redlining effectively blocked Black Chicagoans from living where they wanted, let alone acquiring any wealth through owning or developing real estate. Predatory housing contracts in the 1950s and ‘60s robbed Black Chicagoans of $4 billion. Segregation through public housing policy caused lasting damage. 

The wounds of that history haven’t even scarred over; they are gaping and visible in the challenges that Chicago’s Black and Brown communities contend with every day. White families have reaped the benefits of generations of home ownership, which doesn’t just mean money—it leads to growing property values, stronger schools, greater public safety and viable commerce in their neighborhood. In other words, generational wealth and generational poverty are both self-sustaining cycles.

Yield is one step toward changing the trajectory of our city’s history, and we need more initiatives like this that invest in people to change not just their own economic opportunity, but the opportunity of the individuals and small businesses they will hire and the communities they will develop. The further this idea spreads, the faster things will change—and it’s time for Chicago to get on the right side of history. 

Bernita Johnson-Gabriel is a member of LISC Chicago’s Board of Directors and is executive vice president for neighborhoods and strategic initiatives at World Business Chicago. Hugh Williams is a member of Urban Land Institute Chicago and principal at MK Asset Management. 

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