2023 Community Wealth Building Pilots: A Community-controlled Fund for BIPOC-owned Businesses in the Central District

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Central Area Collaborative visits Central Cafe and Juice Bar.

Dennis Comer, executive director of Central Area Collaborative (CAC), wants elected leaders and policymakers to know three things: What you’re doing to help small BIPOC-owned businesses isn’t working. There are people out here who are creating and leading programs that work. Support us.

Central Area Collaborative is one of those groups. They are creating a program–a community-controlled fund–to help small BIPOC business owners get through emergencies.    

CAC’s community-controlled fund for BIPOC-owned businesses in the Central District is part of the Building Generational Wealth Initiative funded by the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods (DON). In 2023, DON is supporting BIPOC entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to pilot community wealth building strategies as part of a long-term effort to close the racial wealth gap in Seattle. The community wealth building strategies include:

  • Broad-based Worker Ownership 
  • Community-controlled Capital 
  • Community Ownership of Real Estate 
  • Progressive Procurement
  • Equitable Small Business Ecosystems 
  • Wealth Retention and Asset Protection Programs 

CAC’s community-controlled fund represents the community-controlled capital strategy.

Imagine you’re a BIPOC business owner, and the power goes out, one of your windows gets broken, an important piece of equipment breaks down, or an employee calls in sick, you’re shorthanded, and you can’t open your business for a few days. You need emergency funding quickly to keep your business afloat. You go to a Community Development Financial Institution to try to get an emergency loan, but you don’t qualify. It turns out CDFIs have pretty much the same structural barriers and restrictions as traditional financial institutions. What do you do now?

If CAC’s pilot project succeeds, you’d be able to go to a community-controlled fund, administered by an advisory body made up of your peers–a group of BIPOC business owners in the Central District–and make your case to them. They could quickly grant you a loan with the ability to pay it back in goods, services, volunteer hours, or other goodwill options, if you can’t pay it back in cash. 

During the pilot project period, CAC will use the pilot project funding as seed money for this community-controlled fund. They’ll work with the advisory group of business owners to develop guidelines and procedures for accessing the funds. And they’ll research funding sources to sustain the fund past the pilot project period.

CAC is also partnering with Denkyem Co-op on this pilot project. Denkyem Co-op will administer loan and grant funds.

We at People’s Economy Lab look forward to consulting with Dennis and Central Area Collaborative through this process. This will be an incredible resource to have in the Central District!

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