Filling the Representation Gap in Detroit’s Developers

June 27th, 2019

As the vice president of program implementation at Invest Detroit, Darnell Adams is working hard to support developers of color to better reflect Detroit’s diversity. Find out more about the intentional approach that he and the Invest Detroit team are taking to make this happen.

Today in Detroit, you can look to any news outlet around the city and see new development happening. But the usual developers you see camouflage the demographics of Detroit, a predominately black city. To diversify the ecosystem of developers, we have to be intentional about bringing developers of color to the table and provide them with tools, training, and resources. We have to help build their capacity to develop their neighborhoods.

My name is Darnell Adams, Vice President, Program Implementation here at Invest Detroit. Part of my role is to foster an inclusive and equitable development process within Detroit neighborhoods while working to build the capacity of minority developers to yield a stronger economic development ecosystem that better represents the makeup of Detroit. Invest Detroit purposely works to support minority real estate and business projects by leveraging its partnerships and resources with other community development financial institutions (CDFI), traditional banks, non-profits, and government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels.

Not every developer is the same, and we work to meet them where they are. Depending on their skill set, we attempt to connect them to training platforms such as the Capital Impact Partners Equitable Development Initiative (empowering minority developers in Detroit), or Building Community Value, as examples. These programs work to train emerging minority developers in both housing and commercial development.

Once a developer has a high-level project scope, we strive to make their idea a reality. From the start, we provide wrap-around technical assistance (TA) to developers to build their capacity to do commercial and multi-family development in a tight real estate market. Invest Detroit and the developer set up weekly meetings to keep the project on track, and we dedicate a tremendous amount of staff hours to troubleshooting different components of a project to keep it from stalling. We work through pro formas (i.e, budgets, projections), design standards, capital stacks, timelines, predevelopment needs (i.e, title work, environmental due diligence, property acquisition), inclusive community engagement coordination, zoning regulations, coordination with our partners for the acquisition of real estate or funding needs, and much more. This experience has already proven to be fruitful as some of our developers of color have their eyes on additional projects here in the City of Detroit.

Again, adding developers of color to the development ecosystem has to be intentional, and it is a goal here at Invest Detroit. In order for Detroit to truly rebound and sustain its economic momentum, the people that have been here need to be a part of the story. We have an opportunity to deconstruct a system that has kept minorities at the peripheral level of development and work to create a new system that makes for a healthier Detroit.