Amazon launches program to grow opportunities for real estate developers of color

Marianne Wilson
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Amazon is piloting a new program to grow opportunities for real estate developers of color.

Amazon has launched a program whose goal is to increase the number of professional real estate developers of color who are focused on affordable housing and inclusive community building.

The online giant is committing more than $21 million to pilot an accelerator program to provide real estate developers of color with education, mentorship, and access to capital in the company’s hometown communities in Washington state’s Puget Sound region, the Arlington, Virginia region and Nashville, Tennessee. The two-year, part-time professional development program, which is free for participants, aims to teach real estate developers of color how to advance their careers.

It also aims to lower the barriers these developers can face when bidding for affordable housing developments. The new initiative is part of the $2 billion Amazon Housing Equity Fund, a commitment to create and preserve 20,000 affordable homes for individuals and families earning moderate to low incomes in Amazon’s hometown communities.

“With this accelerator program, we are laser focused on lifting up emerging real estate developers of color,” said Catherine Buell, director of the Amazon Housing Equity Fund. “We want to foster their professional growth through education and training, as well as improve their access to capital, which can be elusive to developers of color. If we are going to bring about lasting, holistic, and meaningful change to how affordable housing is developed, developers of color need to be a part of the solution.”

Amazon noted that not only are developers of color underrepresented in the real estate industry, but they also lack access to the capital and resources necessary to advance much-needed affordable housing projects to help their communities. According to a 2019 report from the Urban Land Institute, nonprofit research and education organization for real estate and land use experts, 5% of its U.S. members are Black and 82% are white, though Blacks represent more than 13% of the U.S. population. This disparity translates into a lack of diversity at the project development level that can subsequently exclude developers of color from working on meaningful and lucrative housing deals as cities expand.

Amazon has partnered with local social impact and economic justice organizations in each region—the LocalInitiative Support Corporation (LISC) in the Puget Sound region, Capital Impact Partners in the Arlington region, and the Urban League of Middle Tennessee in Nashville—to develop curriculums and networking opportunities that reflect the specific issues facing their communities. The accelerator program will initially support up to 30 total participants by providing:

  • Virtual and in-person classroom instruction on real estate fundamentals, affordable housing trends, public policy, and financing best practices
  • Small group mentoring
  • Professional networking opportunities with industry leaders, researchers, and established real estate developers
  • Access to capital for pre-development expenses, such as architectural and engineering costs; permitting, survey and site-planning fees; and market and feasibility studies

Participants in the program will be selected by each partner organization and will be based on the following eligibility guidelines:

  • Identify as a person of color;
  • Work experience as a developer at a real estate development firm or organization; and
  • Real estate development activities focused in the Puget Sound region, Arlington region, or Nashville.

Concurrent to the accelerator program, Amazon is also partnering with Enterprise Community Load Fund to administer grants of up to $200,000 to qualified real estate developers of color. The grants are open to anyone who applies to the Amazon Housing Equity Fund and needs assistance with the capacity-building and pre-development expenses associated with the preservation and creation of affordable housing within Amazon’s three focus regions.

The Amazon Housing Equity Fund is a more than $2 billion commitment to create or preserve existing housing and create inclusive housing developments through below-market loans and grants to housing partners, traditional and non-traditional public agencies, and minority-led organizations. Since its January launch, the fund’s commitments will preserve or create over 5,600 affordable housing units, with more investments to come.