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Amazon has launched a program that aims to increase the number of professional real estate developers of color who focus on affordable housing and building inclusive communities.

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

It also aims to reduce the barriers these developers may face when bidding on affordable housing developments. The new initiative is part of the $ 2 billion Amazon Housing Equity Fund, a commitment to create and maintain 20,000 affordable housing units for moderate to low income individuals and families in Amazon hometown communities.

“With this acceleration program, we are laser-focused on developing 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 for color developers. If we are to make a lasting, holistic and meaningful change to the way affordable housing is developed, developers of color must be 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 to push forward affordable housing projects much needed 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, although blacks make up over 13% of the US population. This disparity translates into a lack of diversity in project development which 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 every region—local Initiative support company (LISC) in the Puget Sound area, Capital impact partners in the Arlington area, and the Middle Tennessee Urban League in Nashville– to develop study programs and networking opportunities that reflect the specific issues facing their communities. The acceleration program will initially support up to 30 participants in total by providing:

  • Virtual and in-person classroom instruction on real estate fundamentals, affordable housing trends, public policies 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; permit, survey and site development fees; and market and feasibility studies

Program participants will be selected by each partner organization and will be based on the following eligibility criteria:

  • Identify yourself as a person of color;
  • Experience working as a developer in a real estate development company or organization; and
  • Real estate development activities have been concentrated in the Puget Sound area, the Arlington area or Nashville.

Along with the Accelerator Program, Amazon is also partnering with the Enterprise Community Load Fund to administer grants of up to $ 200,000 to qualified real estate developers of color. Grants are open to anyone who applies to Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund and needs assistance with capacity building and pre-development expenses associated with preserving and creating affordable housing in Amazon’s three target regions.

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

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