The city of Rochester is one of six cities to receive a share of $3.2 million in grants from Living Cities. The dollars support closing racial gaps in homeownership and small-business ownership.
Living Cities’ Closing the Gaps Network disbursed the funds—including $550,201 for Rochester—made possible by the Wells Fargo Foundation and Citi Foundation. Closing the Gaps is a 10-year initiative that collaborates with city leaders involved in efforts that advance equitable and inclusive economic opportunity.
A collaborative of 19 large foundations and financial institutions, Living Cities is focused on closing the racial income and wealth gaps in cities. It aims to address the root causes of systemic inequity in U.S. cities.
“We understand that we have made progress, but it will take more work to dismantle decades of institutionalized racism,” says Rochester Mayor Malik Evans. “The city of Rochester is committed to using these funds to bridge the racial wealth gap by administering government policies and programs to increase homeownership and entrepreneurship opportunities for those who’ve been historically marginalized and underserved.”
Rochester plans to target outreach to Head Start families with Housing Choice Vouchers to buy homes using their vouchers and assist with down-payment assistance. The city also plans to offer grants to early-stage BIPOC-owned businesses, as well as navigation support and other technical assistance.
“Homeownership and small business ownership are two of the proven ways to help any group of individuals build wealth to support themselves and their families,” says Joe Scantlebury, president and CEO of Living Cities. “Gaps in wealth between people of color and white people persist and it will take coordinated, direct action by leaders in cities to turn back the ongoing legacy of systemic racism. We believe that removing barriers to Black, Indigenous, and other people of color owning homes and small businesses is key for our nation’s future.”
Brandee McHale, president of the Citi Foundation and head of community investing and development at Citi, notes that tackling the racial wealth gap requires a commitment to systemic interventions and bringing diverse changemakers to the table. Closing the Gaps Network does that.
“By supporting this initiative, the Citi Foundation aims to help more U.S. cities test new approaches that have the potential to catalyze meaningful progress toward wealth creation and equitable growth,” McHale says.
“We’re excited to see how each of the selected cities customizes solutions for the needs of their community as they work to close the racial wealth gap,” says Otis Rolley, president of the Wells Fargo Foundation.
In addition to Rochester, other cities in the effort are Albuquerque, Austin, Memphis, Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minn. Each city has a plan that contributes to equity.
Here is a look at their ideas:
■ Albuquerque plans to develop city-owned land to support and increase the homeownership rates for local Native and Black communities and offer technical assistance to develop a pipeline of licensed BIPOC general contractors in the city.
■ Austin will partner with UpTogether, to provide direct cash assistance to support BIPOC residents who want to purchase homes through the city’s land trust. BIPOC entrepreneurs will also get equity infusions technical support.
■ Memphis plans a community land trust in its historic Orange Mound neighborhood to provide affordable homeownership, as well as develop a Contractors University to improve BIPOC access to contextual technical assistance, strengthen the contractor community, and help more BIPOC businesses contract with the city.
■ Minneapolis’partnership with Youthprise aims to create a pilot cohort of underserved BIPOC youth to support them in advancing cooperative models for business and homeownership.
■ Saint Paul willcontribute to the Inheritance Fund, which offers forgivable loans to help low-income descendants of the old Rondo neighborhood purchase homes and support homeownership and employee owned co-ops through capacity building.
Rochester and these cities are part of the Year of Reckoning cohort that calls for deeper engagement. Living Cities says the Year of Reckoning is the foundational racial equity training and competency-building component of a multifaceted approach to its work with cities.
Along with the others, Rochester will work to understand its history as it relates structural racism and the income and wealth gaps, and how that history relates to current conditions. Cities will develop analysis and vision for racially-just decisions and policy-making, reflect on power and accountability, and deepen their relationships with the communities they serve, Living Cities says. They will practice racial equity skills, competencies and tools together.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].