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Black developers are getting funded and still the sector needs reform to truly be equitable

Since the racial uprising following the public murder of George Floyd, Black developers have received millions of dollars from government agencies and banks to redevelop the metro area. The investments have helped diversify the development sector, in some aspects, but financial support is not the same as equity.

Equitable development only works when people within a community are the ones determining what’s needed to keep them healthy and safe. I spoke with Kenya McKnight-Ahad and Denetrick Powers about their experiences as Black developers and asked, "How do we build our communities without leaving people behind?"

Kenya McKnight-Ahad is CEO of the Black Woman’s Wealth Alliance which provides wealth education & services, business technical support and professional development, to strengthen the capacity of Black Women to build generational wealth. Recently, Hennepin County awarded McKnight-Ahad with $800,000 to help with her multimillion dollar development in North Minneapolis.

"I care differently about this community, because I grew up here, and I want people to feel proud," she said. "So I'm making a place of love in the middle of the hood. I can only do that because I got love for the hood, right?”

McKnight-Ahad has named her building at 1200 West Broadway Avenue Za'Rah, Minnesota's first Black holistic wellness complex. It will be converted into vacancies for wellness providers to rent and operate. The reality is, it takes a whole lot more than purchasing a building to run a successful development, and that's where reform needs to happen.

"I would encourage all of these systems to think beyond that initial phase, not just giving us money for acquisition and some redevelopment, but supporting us over the next three to five years post redevelopment to help us stabilize our success and impact in the community."

Denetrick Powers is co-founder and Director of Planning and Engagement at NEOO partners, a creative commercial real estate development and planning firm based in St. Paul. The company is leading on nearly a dozen developments along Lake Street.

“Black and brown businesses don't get the same opportunities as white businesses, we don't have to get multiple opportunities to test and fail," Powers said. "We simplify the development process for our small business clients and help them understand and prioritize what they need immediately, as well as helping people get to the decision faster, because time is money, especially in real estate."

Lake Street Council estimates between $400 to $500 million in damage following the murder of George Floyd. Russ Adams manager of the Corridor Recovery Initiatives at the Lake Street Council says the neighborhood is now vulnerable to gentrification, or the involuntary economic displacement of residents and businesses.

“Gentrification fears are real and are occurring all over the Twin Cities. And when you have the kind of damage we saw during the civil unrest that could create the ripe conditions for that kind of activity," Adams said. "It's something people worry about on Nicollet Avenue, and it's something people worry about on Lake Street, on University Avenue, in Saint Paul and on West Broadway and on the North Side."

Adams also agrees that developers of color often produce more equitable outcomes than traditional big box developers. the reason being Black and Brown developers are typically from the community and care about the people in their neighborhood.

"So for me, equitable development means meeting people where they are, addressing the immediate challenges that people are experiencing in day to day lives, and giving people what they need when they need it," Powers said. "Ultimately it's understanding that not everybody isn't coming into the game with the same tools or context."

"I think you have to invest in leadership and opportunities from the inside-out, and the approach has been from the outside-in," McKnight-Ahad said. "I know some of the deeper ills of this community, I grew up in these neighborhoods and I understand our people. I think that's the power of investing and developers like me."

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