Communities and corporations alike were hit hard by the events of 2020. After a year of loss and unrest, one bright spot is the renewed focus on racial equity across the country. Businesses across every industry are working to re-evaluate and address their role in solving systemic inequities.
Relationships like the one between JPMorgan Chase and Enterprise Community Partners are essential to tackling ingrained systemic challenges. JPMorgan Chase has been dedicated to advancing racial equity for years. In 2020, the firm announced a $30 billion commitment to create economic opportunity for Black, Latinx and other underserved communities with housing at its core. Likewise, building on 40 years of creating affordable homes in vibrant communities, Enterprise's latest strategic plan focuses on dismantling systemic racism in housing—in policy, practice and investment.
I spoke with Jacqueline Waggoner, Solutions Division President at Enterprise, to discuss the organization’s work to eliminate structural barriers to equity in affordable housing and move the industry forward through leadership, shifts in power and systemic change.
Racial disparities aren’t a new topic in community development—the U.S. has a long history of housing discrimination in policy and practice. Solutions have not only been difficult to discuss, but also to implement. For example, fair housing and lending laws were designed to prevent discrimination. By not considering race, however, these laws do little to address the disparities facing communities of color, especially in the multifamily industry. Enterprise has worked to normalize conversations around race and housing for years with efforts such as the Undesign the Redline exhibit.
The community development industry has been on the right path, but 2020 was a wake-up call. “The industry became more comfortable talking about racial inequities after George Floyd’s death,” Waggoner said.
“I think we needed to normalize saying ‘racial equity’ and acknowledge the disparities between particular groups—Black people, Latinx people—and then commit to changing the way we serve those communities,” she said.
But Enterprise doesn’t just acknowledge disparities. The nonprofit offers a blueprint for other organizations with its strategic plan, which focuses on:
The need for affordable housing and an inclusive recovery from the pandemic is too urgent to focus on just one of these elements. “I’m hopeful we’re going to recover together and make real progress as long as we keep these ideas at the forefront,” Waggoner said.
The housing crisis disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx people. Even before the pandemic, more than half of Black and Hispanic renter households were cost-burdened, compared to 42% of Asian and white households.1
People of color are also disproportionately represented in the homeless population. For example, Hispanic or Latino people represent 23% of all people experiencing homelessness, but only 16% of the overall population. The numbers are even more pronounced for Black people, who make up 39% of people experiencing homelessness and 53% of homeless families with children, despite representing 12% of the overall population.2
Conversely, people of color are largely absent in leadership roles across commercial real estate, including the affordable housing industry.
of real estate investment management firms are minority-owned
of real estate funds are possessed by minority-owned firms
of real estate assets are controlled by minority-owned firms
Source: Knight Foundation and Bella Research Group 2019 Diverse Asset Management Project Firm Assessment
Enterprise wants to change the power dynamic.
Drawing on data and feedback from housing providers, Enterprise’s Equitable Path Forward initiative works to dismantle the legacy of racism in housing and build an equitable future for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and other historically marginalized housing providers.
The initiative has three goals:
“We’re giving BIPOC-led organizations the unrestricted resources they need so they can decide what gets built, who’s building it and who gets to benefit from it,” Waggoner said. “Then these organizations can get out of survival mode and really serve the community, listen to what people need and scale.”
“We’re giving BIPOC-led organizations the unrestricted resources they need so they can decide what gets built, who’s building it and who gets to benefit from it.” — Jacqueline Waggoner, Solutions Division President at Enterprise Community Partners
“It’s not just Enterprise. Everything we do is about people, partnerships and systemic changes,” Waggoner said. As one of the firm’s longest collaborators in this space, Enterprise and JPMorgan Chase work together to advance innovative national and local strategies through initiatives such as the Emergency Action for Resident and Partner Sustainability program.
The collaborative approach is central to Equitable Path Forward, which already has a powerful roster of investors, including several members of the Fortune 500. Enterprise encourages all businesses to get involved with the initiative.
But business efforts shouldn’t end there. Waggoner encourages other community development organizations to look at Enterprise’s work and establish similar initiatives. She also hopes the financial industry continues to examine how it underwrites projects. “Do we really need these types of financial ratios?” she asked. “Do we need this type of cash? Do we need such a high barrier to entry in terms of experience?”
“I’m hoping Equitable Path Forward moves the industry to be more strategic with its investments and how it deploys its capital,” she said. “If that is the case, we will see more neighborhood transformation. We’ll see stronger nonprofits led by people of color. And if there are more leaders of color in those seats, they can help build a pipeline of diverse talent.”
Meaningful systemic change—the type the affordable housing industry requires—will only come from diverse leadership and ownership, as well as greater access to capital to build communities’ resiliency. Everyone must have a seat at the table to lead and influence.