Black Real Estate Development Fund Forms the Foundation for Beloved Community in Southeast Seattle

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Commercial real estate broker Pearl Nelson standing in front of the Arch Apartments in Southeast Seattle, a building he helped preserve for long-term, affordable housing through partnerships built within the CORD network.

Community-Owned Resource Development (CORD) is a coalition of over 40 BIPOC community leaders and organizations that empowers its members to advance real estate development projects that combat displacement and build wealth for their communities. CORD is founded on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Building Beloved Communities philosophy. According to CORD, a Beloved Community is one in which community members experience overall well-being and a sense of belonging, are economically thriving, and are in meaningful interconnection with each other and the broader community.

Right now, too many people in Seattle’s Black communities are excluded from economic opportunities. Threatened by gentrification and displacement, they’re struggling to stay in their homes and neighborhoods. (Rental rates are up 300% in some parts of SE Seattle.) While affluent individuals and families and white real estate investors and developers use their outsized wealth and social capital to take advantage of Seattle’s skyrocketing real estate market, Black communities find themselves disempowered and displaced.

CORD is determined to change that reality by offering economic infrastructure, a coordinated network of partners, and sources of capital that empower Black institutions to successfully hold, acquire, and develop real estate in Seattle. With the support of Community Credit Lab and People’s Economy Lab, and initial funding from Seattle’s Office of Planning & Community Development, CORD is establishing a property acquisition fund and community lending program for Black real estate developers. With this fund and access to CORD’s invaluable network, Black developers will enrich their communities by retaining and developing affordable real estate in Seattle.

CORD’s greatest strength is its extensive network. CORD isn’t an organization; it’s a community hub for educating developers and financial institutions and making connections. Money is important, but building long-term, enduring relationships is far more important. CORD co-founder Dr. Mark R. Jones believes the best way to cultivate relationships, particularly across boundaries of race and class, is play. When tensions arise, establishing a playful mindset is a powerful way to relieve fear and allow people the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. Even people with good intentions uphold racist systems when they’re too afraid to abandon the familiar and try something new.

While many Black developers are very good at what they do, they often lack the generational wealth and social capital needed to secure necessary funding. By building relationships and trust with bankers and private investors, CORD seeks to remove these barriers. By creating a community-controlled fund with contributions from banks and investors, as well as a pre-approved group of Black developers, CORD will ease the way for these transactions to take place.

Some of the development projects CORD and the fund are supporting include:

  • 200 units of affordable housing for BIPOC families living in SE Seattle
  • A facility for BIPOC-owned food production and distribution, strengthening local food systems and jobs
  • A new location for Cafe Avole, a Black-owned coffee shop and roastery, which was displaced from Rainier Beach during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • The BIPOC Sustainable Tiny Art House Community, a community-born, Black-led project, which establishes equity for low- to middle-income working BIPOC artists

CORD is committed to supporting development projects that prioritize Beloved Community and sustainability. Several generations from now–150 years and more from now–Black individuals and families will still live and run small businesses in the buildings Black real estate developers are currently developing. Beloved Community will thrive in Seattle and beyond.

We at People’s Economy Lab love to hear and share stories about BIPOC just transition practitioners and BIPOC-led organizations building a new, regenerative economy in Washington! Thank you to Mark Jones and Curtis Brown for taking the time to tell us about CORD. (Mark Jones was a 2021 New Economy Washington Frontline Community Fellow.)