Cleveland’s new training program aims to change the face of development


Seronica Powell was in her mid-forties when she discovered a real estate bug.

In 2019, she purchased a rental property for two families from a Cleveland Eastside foreclosure. Then she acquired a vacant lot next door, a piece of land owned by the city.

Last month, she finally became the owner and rented it in the Tremont area for almost 20 years.

Currently, Powell, 47, is taking a short crash course in real estate development as part of a recently established national program in Cleveland. She is one of 30 local first class students of the Urban Land Institute’s Housing Diversity Initiative. This course is intended for women, people of color, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and queers.

“I wanted to develop it just to let the kids do something,” said Powell, a single mom who raised her son and daughter while working in social service. “I wanted them to be able to leave a legacy.”

A 13-week in-service training program outlines the lifecycle of a real estate project, from due diligence to rental or sale. Students learn from experts, perform in-depth financial analysis, and collaborate on case studies as a final project.

The Diversity Initiative was started in Denver in 2009 by the Colorado District Council of the Nonprofit Urban Land Institute. Since then, the program has expanded to Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and other states.

Regional developments were in line with the growing national focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. After George Floyd died under the knees of a Minneapolis cop last year, U.S. businesses have publicly embarked on social change, with mixed results.

In Cleveland, citizen groups, government officials and some real estate executives have been discussing for years how to develop more diverse development talent. The industry is dominated by whites, but a minority of developers is starting to emerge, especially on the black east side.

“We are in a time when diversity is taken seriously,” said Anthony Whitfield, consultant and community development practitioner who co-chairs the Outreach Committee for the local branch of the Urban Land Institute. I go.

In 2013, Whitfield was part of the Cleveland Second Class of Project REAP, also known as the Real Estate Associates Program. His National Minority Training Program for Commercial Real Estate Careers debuted here in 2012. But he hasn’t graduated since 2015.

Akil Hamed, a local broker with the REAP National Council, said discussions are underway to bring the course back to Cleveland in 2022 or 2023.

Whitfield believes the Real Estate Diversity Initiative will only be open to racial and ethnic minorities and attract a wider range of participants than Project REAP, which aims to diversify the ranks of executives at real estate companies.

The new development class is also cheaper for participants, $ 300 for the series and $ 1,000 for Project REAP.

“We chose REDI to do more,” added Whitfield, adding that he believed the two programs could coexist without conflict.

Melanie Cortica, district director at the Cleveland Urban Land Institute, said 50 people applied for 30 empty sites in the spring.

Chad Stevens, a 36-year-old organizer working at the Sierra Club, has arrived. He took to the program on Twitter and asked for advice on how to buy vacant land in Cleveland in March. Another user contacted me with a link to the app.

Stevens, an environmentalist with a political interest, has no training in real estate. But he dreams of developing a very efficient house. And it learns lessons that can be applied not only to buildings, but also to solar and wind projects. “There are a lot of skills that can be transferred,” he said.

His classmate Glenn Schmate, 61, has worked in the construction industry for many years. Now he’s looking at a real estate project across the table. Shumate, vice president of the Construction Employers Association trade association, owns vacant land and several rental properties. His interest in development is personal and professional. He is also keen to apply his new knowledge in his role as a trustee at the Cleveland Restoration Association to help small contractors and builders work on conservation projects.

“It has to start somewhere,” Shumate said of paving the way for a somewhat closed development enterprise. “I think the transfer of knowledge and to some extent… the access provided by the program can be a disaster.

A pandemic with a delayed start date also pushed the class online. The virtual session started on June 1. Students will not meet in person until August. The timetable for the next session has not been fixed.

Although he has resigned as chairman of the district council, Steve Ross, an office officer who heads the Governance Commission, said: “If possible, it is absolutely necessary to make it at least a sustainable program. once a year. I have. “It will be up to us to get the money. “

This program is run by volunteers, including mentors and educators. To offset costs, including one-year Urban Land Institute membership for graduates, this chapter draws on sponsors such as Key Bank Real Estate Capital, Benesch LLP, NAACP Cleveland Branch, Greater Cleveland Partnership and Cleveland Development Advisors. I am.

Erin Braskovich, Mentor Client Development Manager for Cleveland Construction, was surprised and thrilled to make the cut for the first session.

“Development is not about studying in school. It’s not about going to college. Even real estate in general is very difficult without real growth. The real estate family.

She wanted a better understanding of proforma, the document that investors use to assess the profitability of transactions. However, Blazkovich, like other classmates, has a long-term vision to embark on development, albeit on a small scale.

“We need a really good network to do these projects, especially in Cleveland,” she said.

Powell, who works at the nonprofit Black Health and Equity Center, said it was impressive to be part of a program designed especially for her.

“It’s huge,” she said. “This is huge…. This is a minority group that has always had to fight just to exist, and this is what ULI has done to program around us, to do more and to actually live. ‘is that. “

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