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BUILDING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION of Philadelphia

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Black History Month: Resistance and Progress

Black History Month was established to celebrate the contributions of Black Americans throughout our country’s history, as well as to recognize their undeniable sacrifices. Each year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH®) provides a theme to focus the public’s attention on important aspects of Black culture and experience. In 2023, ASALH suggests exploring Black resistance:

“By resisting Black people have achieved triumphs, successes, and progress as seen in the end of chattel slavery, dismantling of Jim and Jane Crow segregation in the South, increased political representation at all levels of government, desegregation of educational institutions, the passage of Civil Rights Act of 1964, the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History in DC and increased and diverse representation of Black experiences in media. Black resistance strategies have served as a model for every other social movement in the country, thus, the legacy and importance of these actions cannot be understated... This is a call to everyone… to study the history of Black Americans’ responses to establish safe spaces, where Black life can be sustained, fortified, and respected.”

For members of the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia (BIA), Black resistance to neighborhood development and displacement is a familiar theme – one that requires us to demonstrate understanding and find a common path forward.

There is much to learn about housing and race in America. A long history of discriminatory government policies and funding practices has brought us to a flash point of resistance in Philadelphia. BIA members witnessed this firsthand when affordable housing advocates forced their way into an association event in protest last September. The BIA is not blind to past and present disparities that limit opportunity for Black Philadelphians in the world of real estate and we encourage members to study that history (see 5 essential books to understand the housing crisis on Curbed.com). But our response to such inequities and resistance is where we are focusing our attention now.

Two years ago, the BIA presented City Council with a detailed plan for leveraging the expertise and capability of private-sector residential developers to augment affordable housing development by the city and its civic groups and help meet growing demand. Our plan to provide thousands of units in the next 10 years was met with some skepticism, and while we continue to push city government to release land for this purpose, we understand why civic leaders and city officials may resist working with for-profit developers.

Now the BIA is actively working to build relationships with Registered Community Organizations (RCOs) and Community Development Corporations (CDCs) to approach neighborhood development in a more productive and equitable way. Led by our Affordable Housing Committee, members are beginning outreach with district councilmembers to identify RCOs and CDCs that are open to public-private partnerships. The BIA wants to learn more about these neighborhoods, what the civic groups aim to achieve, and to help realize their plans. It will take time to gain trust, but we believe there is great benefit to working together.

While the BIA’s goal is to deliver affordable units at scale, BIA members Frankel Enterprises, The HOW Group's HOW Charities division, and Tester Construction Group came together to provide an underserved family with the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty through homeownership and financial literacy. They recently completed the renovation of a Brewerytown home and celebrated with its new owner. Additional support came from members Blackney Hayes Architects, Baldwin Electrical, Sanks Mechanical, A Squared Construction, 84 Lumber, Whole Stone Marble & Granite, and Tague Lumber. Another three to five homes for families in need are planned.

As important as our plan for affordable housing is BIA’s plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Supporting the growth and inclusion of diverse member firms are key elements of that plan. We are increasing development opportunities for Black and Brown professionals in the industry, helping to build capacity, and improving access to capital.

In 2021, the BIA featured four of its board members during Black History Month. We asked them what it will take for more Black developers to succeed in the real estate market. “There needs to be an organization not to rival, but to run parallel with the BIA where Black developers can share information, network, and create partnerships such as an Urban Developers Association (UDA),” Rick Young said. “Access to partners who are willing to offer their time and experience in the field and assist with capital would go a long way to the success of Blacks in development.”

Two years later, the UDA is a reality. Earlier this month, the group held its fourth meet and greet. Hosted by member Brandywine Realty Trust at the Cira Centre this time, these events provide invaluable opportunities to bridge differences and build relationships. Co-founders Rick Young and Levar Clark are also developing a program to provide financial assistance for project soft costs and to facilitate partnerships. The support for UDA among BIA members has been tremendous, including sponsorships from Bohler, Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Company, Delancey Risk Partners, JKRP Architects, LendingOne, Nochumson, Penn Community Bank, and The Riverwards Group.

Also this month, the Philadelphia Accelerator Fund (PAF) closed on its first loan to member Dawud Bey of Fine Print Construction and Beywatch Properties. Chaired by BIA Vice President Mo Rushdy of The Riverwards Group, PAF provides capital to historically disadvantaged groups for the production and preservation of affordable housing in Philadelphia. PAF’s products and services are designed to be flexible and can be used for a variety of project types, including mixed-use and mixed income. Members Citizens Bank and Univest Bank were the fund’s first $10million investors. Mr. Bey received $1.3 million from PAF, which was also successful in securing a senior debt loan from NJCC to complete the capital stack. “We are making history and changing the playing field within the developer space,” Bey said.

We are certainly making good progress. Email marianne@biaofphiladelphia.com to get involved in these initiatives.

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