Clifton Harris

NASHVILLE, TN — The Urban League of Middle Tennessee   announced a more than $5 million grant from Amazon to launch an initiative focused on accelerating new opportunities for emerging real estate developers of color while also increasing affordable housing in Nashville. The program, which is free of charge to participants, aims to foster careers and lower the obstacles that these emerging real estate developers can face when trying to get real estate projects off the ground. This funding is the most recent commitment from the more than $2 billion Amazon Housing Equity Fund, which was established to preserve and create over 20,000 affordable homes in Amazon’s hometown communities–the Puget Sound region of Washington state, the Arlington, Virginia region, and Nashville. Collectively, Amazon is committing more than $21 million to launch similar programs for emerging real estate developers of color in all three locations.

The goal of this initiative is to increase the number of real estate developers of color who are focused on affordable housing and inclusive community building across Davidson County. Not only are these developers underrepresented in the real estate industry, they also lack access to the capital and resources necessary to advance much-needed affordable housing projects 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, though Blacks represent more than 13% of the U.S. population. This disparity translates into a lack of diversity at the project development level that can subsequently exclude developers of color from working on meaningful and lucrative housing deals as cities expand. 

“Amazon recognizes that racial imbalance exists in the real estate industry due to historical and systemic barriers we need to overcome,” said Clifton Harris, president and CEO of Urban League of Middle Tennessee. “We are proud to team up with a company that understands this and is doing something about it.” 

“Our community’s need for more affordable housing is a challenge best met when both the public and private sectors work together in common purpose. Amazon’s commitment shows welcome leadership within the business community to drive local solutions,” said Mayor John Cooper. “Supporting a new and diverse cadre of real estate developers will create more inclusive and equitable communities as these developers are uniquely situated to hear community concerns, build the necessary partnerships, and generate greater access to opportunities for residents.”

This collaboration builds upon the Urban League’s established entrepreneurship programs by expanding the curriculum and providing early-stage funding. Participants can expect the following:  

● Virtual and in-person classroom instruction on real estate fundamentals, affordable housing trends, public policy, 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; permitting, survey and site-planning fees; and market and feasibility studies.

“With this program, we are laser focused on lifting up emerging real estate developers of color. We want to foster their professional growth through education and training, as well as improve their access to capital, which can be elusive to developers of color,” said Catherine Buell, director of the Amazon Housing Equity Fund. “If we are going to bring about lasting, holistic, and meaningful change to how affordable housing is developed, developers of color need to be a part of the solution.”

The Urban League of Middle Tennessee will select participants based on the following eligibility guidelines: 

● Identify as a person of color

● Show proof of business license in Davidson County and be a business entity or organization registered as doing business in Nashville

● Demonstrate developer activities focused on the Nashville region and show a commitment to affordable and workforce housing and community development

● Have a development pipeline with at least one project (preference for those under site control)

In addition to the Urban League of Middle Tennessee in Nashville, Amazon has also partnered with local social impact and economic justice organizations in two other regions—the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) in the Puget Sound region of Washington state, Capital Impact Partners in the Arlington, Virginia region—to develop similar pilot programs that reflect the specific issues facing their communities.

The Amazon Housing Equity Fund is a more than $2 billion commitment to create or preserve existing housing and create inclusive housing developments through below-market loans and grants to housing partners, traditional and non-traditional public agencies, and minority-led organizations. In Nashville to date, the Amazon Housing Equity Fund has committed $75 million in below-market capital for developers to create 800 affordable homes in the region near WeGo high-capacity transit corridors. Outside the Amazon Housing Equity Fund, Amazon also donated $2.25 million to Nashville nonprofit, The Housing Fund, in 2020 to help homeowners experiencing financial hardship due to rising housing costs. 

Since announcing a new office in Nashville in 2018, Amazon has created more than 2,500 corporate and technology jobs in the city—halfway towards our goal of 5,000 jobs—and is also committed to supporting the local community with contributions and delivery service for local food banks. Amazon Future Engineer supports more than 240 schools statewide, including Nashville schools, with a high-quality computer science curriculum, robotics clubs, and/or educator professional learning.

Applicants interested in this program can apply and learn more about the Urban League of Middle Tennessee here: https://www.ulmt.org/redacademy. 

Please visit amazon.com/housingequity to read more about Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund or to learn more about opportunities with this program.