Amazon is committing $21 million to pilot a two-year accelerator program to help real estate developers of color progress in an industry known for high barriers to entry, namely capital investment, and practical experience.

The part-time professional development program—which is free for participants—aims to teach real estate developers of color how to advance their careers. The program also addresses the challenges these developers can face when bidding for affordable housing developments. The goal of the program is to increase the number of professional real estate developers of color who focus on affordable housing and inclusive community building.

The initiative is part of the more than $2 billion Amazon Housing Equity Fund. The fund is a commitment to create and preserve 20,000 affordable homes for individuals and families earning moderate to low incomes in Washington state’s Puget Sound region, in and around Arlington, Virginia, and in Nashville, Tennessee.

In January 2021, we launched the Housing Equity Fund, committing more than $2 billion to preserve and create over 20,000 affordable homes in our hometown communities.

“With this accelerator program, we are laser focused on lifting up emerging real estate developers of color. 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,” said Catherine Buell, director of the Amazon Housing Equity Fund. “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.”

Defeating the disparities

Not only are developers of color underrepresented in the real estate industry, 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, a 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.

Providing sustainable mentorship

Amazon has partnered with local social impact and economic justice organizations to develop curriculums and networking opportunities that reflect the specific issues facing their communities. The organizations include the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) in the Puget Sound region, Capital Impact Partners in the Arlington region, and the Urban League of Middle Tennessee in Nashville. 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.

"Developers of color bring enormous opportunity for creative and inclusive solutions to community-focused real estate development, but systemic issues continue to create multiple barriers to their success,” said Ellis Carr, president and CEO of Capital Impact Partners and CDC Small Business Finance. “Through this program, we are partnering with Amazon in helping open doors for people of color who can then pay their experience forward.”

An infographic showcasing data from 2020 Bureau of Labor statistics.
An infographic showcasing data on senior executive jobs in the U.S. commercial real estate industry.

“With Amazon’s support, our hope is to bridge the knowledge gap and build a bench of developers of color who are trusted in their communities,” said Brian Surratt, executive director of LISC Puget Sound. “These developers are then likely to hire contractors and other workers of color, some of whom may live in those same neighborhoods.”

“Amazon recognizes that racial imbalance exists in the real estate industry due to historical and systemic barriers we need to overcome,” said Clifton Harris, president and CEO of Urban League of Middle Tennessee. “We are proud to team up with a company that understands this and is doing something about it.”

Eligibility

Participants in the program will be selected by each partner organization and their participation 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.
  • 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 Loan Fund, Inc. to administer grants of up to $200,000 to qualified real estate developers of color. These 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.

Learn more about Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund or read about opportunities with the accelerator program in Washington state’s Puget Sound region, Northern Virginia or Nashville, Tennessee.