Neighborhood News: Community Wealth Building and Equity

June 24, 2020 | Neighborhood News: Community Wealth Building and Equity | By: Dionne Baux, Director of Urban Programs, NMSC | 

AlbertaHeaddr.jpgAlberta Main Street in Portland, Oregon. Photo credit: Notice Pictures

Greetings Neighborhood News subscribers! 

As I write my blog post for this edition of Neighborhoods News, I consider everything going on in our world today – from the unprecedented Novel Coronavirus to a civil uprising— all things I would not have expected to occur in my lifetime. For my fellow comic book fans, I feel like I am in Superman’s Bizarro World. Please do not take my comic book reference to minimalize what we are facing together; I just can’t believe it is all happening at once! 

History is being made before our eyes and all of us will see ourselves in the history books of the future. Many of us have adopted to a new way of living life by closely following the CDC rules and staying home, only coming out for essential items – loaded with masks, gloves and of course antibacterial wipes. Many have participated in peaceful protests, served as staging areas, read and have considered implementing anti-racist strategies as part of your organization culture, and have worked closely with your cities, businesses, property owners to assess, recover and deepen our small businesses' resilience to weather any disaster – natural or man-made!

We’ve received numerous calls, texts, and emails from neighborhood district managers and city leaders from across the country to discuss best practices and resources on addressing the innumerable challenges facing their small businesses and districts. How do we support small businesses that were impacted by property damage and inventory loss? Do we focus our time and efforts to convince big box retailers to remain in our communities? To quote a manager from Chicago’s Chatman neighborhood, Nedra Simms- Fears, Executive Director of the Greater Chatham Initiative “Our community is now a banking, pharmacy and food desert! Residents must travel 12 square miles to bank, get food or pick up prescriptions. What are the best practices to rectify this?”   

I didn’t have an answer, as these are unprecedented times; however, her questions made me think. This time could be a call to action for economic development and neighborhood district practitioners to create real economic justice. The field of community economic development practitioners and the philanthropic community have begun making shifts to be more economically just, with some organizations at further stages than others. The recognition from these practitioners that the basic principles that drive economies do not work for all communities, particularly disinvested communities of color, and the development of new tools to address issues of equity, is a fairly new discussion. 

Innovation in disinvested communities of color to create amenities to serve its residents and provide opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs is not new. These communities have constantly pushed the envelope to disrupt the economic development system. The field is finally catching up and listening for solutions to implement and fund. How do we take today’s movement and outcry for equity as an opportunity to work with local communities to take the reins to create equity and community wealth building opportunities? These communities are not asking for a hand-out, but an equal opportunity to lead, invest, own, and make decisions for their community.  

In past editions of Neighborhood News, we have discussed concepts and organizations in the UrbanMain network that have led the charge in creating equity. Below, we will revisit some of those concepts and present new strategies Main Street practitioners can consider implementing to jumpstart community wealth building efforts and create economic justice for all. 

Incremental development: This method of development serves as an opportunity for districts to strengthen their neighborhoods and develop the type of projects their community wants through small-scale real estate projects. The Incremental Development Alliance works to build the capacity of local residents/developers to invest in their own neighborhoods and help institutions encourage small scale-development.

Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs): A Community Benefits Agreement or "CBA" is a contract signed by community groups and a real estate developer that requires the developer to offer amenities and/or mitigations to the surrounding community. Site-specific community benefits agreements (CBAs) guarantee that projects generate opportunities for local workers and communities. However, these projects regularly change a city's development paradigm; when decision makers discover how thoughtful projects with specific benefits attached can impact the community, a city enacts community benefits policies that set the stage for lifting thousands of people out of poverty. Learn more here.

Commercial Community Land Trusts (CLT): A Commercial CLT is a community-based initiative that offers continuously affordable commercial ownership opportunities.  A Commercial CLT acquires land and takes it from the speculative, for-profit, real estate market. By holding the land it owns “in trust” indefinitely for the advantage of the community, Commercial CLTs ensure that the land will always be affordable for business owners. According to the City of Lakes Community Land Trust, “The Commercial CLT provides a 99-year renewable ground lease to the business; the ground lease includes a resale formula that determines the building’s sale price and the business owner’s share of the building’s increased value at the time of sale. This allows the initial investment made by public and private subsidy sources to remain with the property, making it affordable to subsequent, qualified buyers.” Learn more here.

Cooperatives or co-ops: The International Co-Operative Alliance defines a cooperative, or co-op, as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically controlled enterprise.” In other words, cooperatives are created by people who have a specific need and who are willing to work together to operate and organize a company that will meet that need.  People who join cooperatives or who are among the founding members of a co-op often have the same shared values, meaning they are willing to work together towards a common goal. One of those goals is to create a better world and build a more inclusive economy by working together and by shifting the focus of the business to place people over profit. Community is a central focus of a cooperative and one of the main values behind co-ops. According to the International Co-Operative Alliance, among those values are: democracy; self-help; self- responsibility;  equity; equality; and solidarity. Learn more about the co-op model by reading about the Mandela Grocery, located in West Oakland.

Impact Investing: Impact investing refers to investment “made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside a financial return,” according to the Global Impact Investing Network. Impact investment provides capital to address social and/or environmental issues. The Boston Impact Initiative Fund is a great example of a fund that focuses on economic justice, meaning they invest in opportunity for all people. Boston Impact Fund is committed to investing in people that have been most oppressed by the current economic system.  

Patient capital: Patient capital investing “bridges the gap between the efficiency and scale of market-based approaches and the social impact of pure philanthropy,” according to Acumen. Patient capital has a increased risk tolerance, has a long-term time-frame, is adaptable to meet an entrepreneur’s needs, and does not prioritize shareholders over the needs of end customers. Along with these factors, patient capital also requires accountability in the form of a return of capital, which serves as evidence that the underlying enterprise can grow sustainably in the future. 


Here are some additional resources to further explore concepts around community wealth building:

This blog post is just the start of our work helping commercial district leaders advance equity in their communities, and we look forward to providing the UrbanMain network with additional ideas and examples surrounding equitable development. If you have an example of implementing community wealth building practices in your neighborhood, please let us know by emailing

Meet the Author

DB_bio_pic.pngDionne Baux, Director of Urban Programs: As Director of Urban Programs, Dionne leads the initiative to broaden the Center’s offerings and engagement in urban neighborhood commercial districts. Dionne has over a decade of experience in project coordination in the fields of urban economic development and commercial district revitalization. She has extensive expertise engaging community stakeholders, identifying and implementing projects in conjunction with community based organizations, government institutions, and real estate development, as well as supporting capacity building opportunities.

Read Dionne's full bio.