Tom Nida of City First Bank and Council member Kenyan McDuffie with AFRO D.C. Editor Micha Green. (Courtesy Photo)

By Aysia Morton,
Special to the AFRO

The panel “Black Voices in Real Estate: Closing the Racial Wealth Gap” was led by City First Bank, the largest black lead bank in the nation, with partners including D.C. Housing Finance Association (HFA), Blue Skye Development, an African-American company founded by D.C. natives and collaborations with the Black Press including the Washington Informer Bridge, the L.A. Sentinel, L.A. Watts Times and the AFRO. The panel focused on communities and developments in the nation’s capital and Los Angeles.  

“This is a bicoastal panel and conversation to spearhead a discussion during Black History Month, in partnership with America’s historic Black newspapers, that will shed light on the origins of the racial wealth gap dating back to the reconstruction era. We are focusing on the future and potential solutions,” said Sonja Wells, chief lending officer for City First Bank. Wells is the only Black woman to hold the position of chief lending officer in the nation’s capital. “You will hear from top developers and other community development partners on strategic initiatives to help increase economic mobility to black Americans that specifically support black developers like the ones on the panel today,” she continued.  

The conversation began with a fireside chat moderated by AFRO D.C. Editor Micha Green and featuring Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and City First Bank Executive Vice President Tom Nida.

“It’s important to acknowledge the history of the racial wealth and housing gap in the United States of America,” said Green. “ Black wealth is only about five percent of White wealth, despite the fact that Black incomes average about 60 percent of White annual incomes,” she continued.  

Nida and McDuffie discussed the history of the racial wealth gap, community development financial institutions (CDFIs), and the role that policy and legislation play in increasing Black wealth.  

The developers panel moderated by Danny Bakewell, Jr., of the L.A. Sentinel and L.A. Watts Times. (Courtesy Photo)

“It is the role of elected officials to acknowledge the challenges that exist in housing and to put in place ways that allow people to own homes, but also commercial real estate,” said Council member McDuffie. “Banks reflect the economic conditions of a community, they cannot change them,” he quoted. “I think that’s extraordinarily important to recognize the work elected officials have to do to create economic opportunities for people who live in communities historically discriminated against and less well resourced. We also need to support those institutions that support those individuals, and CDFI’s have been uniquely positioned to help.” 

There were two panel discussions that included developers and community investment partners such as Kymber Menkiti, president of Keller Williams Properties/ Menkiti Group; Dyane Pascall of Conscious Capital Investment; Harvey Yancey of H2DesignBuild; Omar Karim of Banneker Ventures; Lynn King-Tolliver of Archer Development; Pastor Steve Richardson of the LA Clergy Development Council; Catherine Bull of Amazon Housing Equity, Christopher Donald of D.C. HFA; Lionel Lynch of JPMorgan Chase Capital Solutions and Cheryl Branch of Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches. Much of the panel focused on providing affordable housing and retail spaces to those living in communities in D.C. and L.A. The panel was moderated by Danny Bakewell of the L.A. Sentinel and L.A. Watts Times.  

“A lot of obstacles for me are access to capital. We are there to provide housing that is affordable, and we are up against people who are not trying to make housing affordable and that have an infinite number of resources,” said Pascall about building his company. “A lot of times, my edge in this type of market is building relationships with people who have owned land for forever and have left it neglected and just approaching them,” he continued.  

The developer panel discussed community needs and concerns, partnerships with community businesses and services, their lack of financial support and more. They also answered questions from viewers and community members.  

“As general contractors and developers, we have to be intentional about the changes we make when we’re going into different communities. Understand the community you’re going into, understand their needs and how you can make the community better,” said Yancey of H2DesignBuild.

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