Community Development Sets Framework for Closing the Racial Wealth Gap – Chicago Tribune


Chicago’s neighborhood divestment cycle may be at a turning point. As people examine the effects of long-standing systemic racism, they see how access to capital has determined winners and losers among city neighborhoods. Over a seven-year period, lenders invested more money in a single North Side neighborhood than in all black majority communities combined. Public and private initiatives, from local planning partnerships to billion-dollar mega-developments, can seize this moment to break a chain of inconsistent action, inertia and neglect.

The consequence of this divestment is the widening racial and ethnic wealth gap in Chicago. The historic stripping of wealth, combined with a lack of new investment, creates barriers to wealth creation for people of color or for neighborhoods to attract the infusions of capital that allow communities to thrive. Meanwhile, resources continue to be deployed to generate more wealth in thriving communities. White per capita wealth now exceeds black wealth by ten and Latinx wealth by eight. Investing in disinvested communities is key to closing this gap. A pandemic-ridden Chicago, seeing the economic chasm widen, may be both ready for change and willing to consider racial equity in the process.

Local economic development projects have brought needed resources to people excluded from traditional occupational and capital structures. For example, the Chicago Community Trust’s pre-development fund, launched in 2020 as part of our Catalyzing Neighborhood Investment strategy, is providing seed capital to redevelop journalist Lu Palmer’s King Drive home as a Black Media Archiverenovate 43rd street Historic Forum Theaterto redevelop a vacant utility building in Gage Park into a community and learning center for Latinx immigrants and developing food businesses such as ChiFresh Kitchen, incubated at The Hatchery commercial kitchen in East Garfield Park and now opening its own space in Greater Grand Crossing.

These community projects provide opportunities for an emerging cohort of black and Latino professionals – the developers as well as their architects, lawyers, engineers and other specialists. Even large neighborhood projects are stepping up to develop and showcase expertise where they live. The Obama Foundation places minority partners in primary design and construction roles for the Obama Presidential Center, including its alliance of Presidential Partners of Minority Builders.

At all stages of development, Black- and Brown-owned businesses must be assured of a fair chance of winning contracts that allow them to hire, train and expand resources within the community. To tap into new development opportunities, black and brown design, development and construction professionals rely on peer support, contacts and partnerships. Yield Chicago brings together a cohort of black and brown professionals and mentors to harness the resources of the South and West Side projects. The Chicago Emerging Minority Developers Initiative encourages community-focused developers to participate in Chicago’s Invest South/West program.

In addition, Black and Latinx developers are beginning to participate in the development of large-scale developments. The $7 billion Bronzeville Lakefront development engages Black partners Zeb McLaurin of McLaurin Development, James Reynolds’ Loop Capital and Paula Robinson’s Bronzeville Community Development Partnership. Community development has provided the runway that allows investors, lenders, businesses and developers to transform the former Michael Reese Hospital campus through innovative partnerships with private capital, endowments and individual investors

By bringing new backers to the table and minority talent to the drawing board and to the job site, scale-up will support the success of local retail, service and entrepreneurial activities. This is what gives projects like Bronzeville Lakefront, The new installation of ChiFresh Kitchen in Greater Grand Crossing and other community and city-led efforts, the financial and social impact that the south and west sides of Chicago need. Equitable development spreads its benefits throughout the city. By cultivating Black and Latina businesses, Chicago’s real estate and investment community will create wealth in Black and Brown communities, reverse emigration, and help close the racial wealth gap.

Helene D. Gayle is President and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust. In July, she becomes the 11th president of Spelman College.

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