Bree Jones, founder of Parity, experienced gentrification firsthand in New York City and turned her efforts to mitigate this displacement of communities of color to Baltimore City. (Courtesy Photo)
By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
In 2019, a National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) study found that seven cities accounted for almost half of the gentrification in the United States from 2000 to 2013, and Baltimore was included in this bracket. The city had the fifth largest number of gentrified areas.
Bree Jones, born in New York, witnessed this unjust displacement of Black and Brown residents herself in her hometown of New Rochelle around 2013. New York City weighed in at number one on the list with the largest number of gentrified tracts.
Jones determined that she needed to do something about this, so she mobilized hundreds of community members to protest the development of luxury rental apartments in downtown New Rochelle.
“I became a housing activist because I could see that my neighborhood was at risk of being gentrified,” said Jones.
Unfortunately, the outspoken opposition was not enough to defeat the developers that would continue to build expensive housing, and according to Jones, residents have been forced to leave the city in search of more affordable options.
Flash-forward to 2020, Jones founded Parity, an equitable development company headquartered in West Baltimore. She initially attempted to start the company in New York but the housing values in the city were too high because of the damage perpetrated by big development companies.
Jones chose Baltimore to officially launch the company because she wanted to work in a predominantly Black city, and she wanted to target a city that had historically been affected by redlining and institutional racism.
“I started Parity because I realized that developers have a lot of power, especially when it comes to either being forces for good or forces for bad in historically Black neighborhoods,” said Jones. “I wanted to start a development company that worked for the benefit of the people rather than for the benefit of a few that are making a profit.”
Parity’s business model is uncommon because Jones presells the homes before owning them in an effort to establish a collective of residents that want to buy homes on a block-by-block basis. Its first collective has 25 people from a West Baltimore neighborhood who want to transition from renting to home ownership, and they have an active role in decision making for the project.
“We meet on a monthly basis, and we go over all of the key decisions that need to be made for that month whether it’s our architectural layouts or marketing and financing efforts,” said Jones. Parity also has a community advisory board that comprises legacy residents who provide oversight of the project.
Jones has not yet been able to pay herself a salary, and the money for the project has been primarily taken out of her pockets. Since the beginning in 2021, Parity has been receiving more donations and grants to fund the work.
In June, Jones was notified that she was selected for the Fund for New Leadership (FNL), an innovative fellowship that supports rising social change leaders in the United States. The fellowship includes $75,000 in unrestricted funds each year for three years as well as peer coaching and mentoring opportunities. The money will allow Jones to pay herself a salary, and she plans to make her first hires: a head of brand strategy to oversee marketing efforts and a head of experience to oversee Parity homebuyers’ journey and its anti-displacement efforts.
Parity’s first set of homes will be ready in early 2022, and Jones hopes that the company can eventually expand to develop 100 homes per year.
“I hope that can be an inspiration for other people and cities that are facing displacement and gentrification by offering up another way of doing this work that is equitable and creates wealth for people who have been historically redlined,” said Jones.
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