Demystifying the Real Estate Development World for Minority Youth

"There’s a whole community of people who think owning buildings is out of reach."

Bronx youth get a one-day sample of Project Destined's real estate development coursework. (Credit: Project Destined)

When Cedric Bobo and Fred Greene think back on their most meaningful moments since founding Project Destined, a nonprofit whose goal is to help minority youth become real estate stakeholders in their communities, they both tell the same story.

The pair launched the nonprofit in 2016 in Detroit. Early into the program, they took students on walking tours of downtown with an African American developer who owned several buildings in the area. “We’re on the walking tour with 30 to 40 students,” says Greene. “The developer pointed out the building he purchased and what he planned to do there. And one of the scholars pulls me aside, to tell us he had no idea that people owned buildings.”

For Greene, “that moment resonated with me…there’s a whole community of people who think owning buildings is out of reach.”

For Bobo, he knew “we can help [students] see their city in an entirely different way.”

Prior to founding Project Destined, Bobo worked over 20 years as an investor and investment banker. Greene, the son of a developer, followed his father into the real estate business. In the industry, Greene notes, the racial disparity is “very clear.” That’s primarily because it’s an apprenticeship-based business not taught in schools, according to Greene. “It’s not a talent gap, it’s an information gap,” he says. “It boils down to access to information and access to capital.”

Greene and Bobo wanted to develop a framework to bring real estate education and mentorship to minority youth, while also offering real-life opportunities for them to become stakeholders. The cities where they’ve brought their program — Detroit, Memphis, and the Bronx — are all home to tight-knit minority communities that have seen significant change brought on by gentrification.

“So many urban communities are changing rapidly,” says Bobo. “The students see the product of it, but don’t know how to participate. We’re giving them tools so they aren’t afraid of gentrification, but are finding ways to participate in progress.”

As Greene puts it, “these neighborhoods deserve a good quality of life. The goal is, how do you reward the people who have been there and give them the tools to stay?”

That reward, Greene says, is making sure historically disadvantaged communities who typically rent can economically benefit from neighborhood change. It’s a significant challenge, given that gentrification often hinges on the displacement of minority residents and businesses for wealthier, whiter homeowners and investors.

Greene and Bobo believe teaching young people about real estate and ownership, and also giving them tools to invest, is the first step in creating a new narrative of gentrification.

The pair recruits at local high schools before they start a program in a new city. Interested students go through a “scavenger hunt exposure experience,” as Bobo calls it, to decide if they want to commit. From there, Project Destined works with a group of roughly 50 in a six-month training program.

Students learn everything from real estate basics — the difference between a multi-family and commercial asset, for example — alongside intensive sections on architecture, design, construction, property operations, legal regulations and financing.

Greene and Bobo have found students who struggle in traditional classroom settings often thrive in the training program, where classes take place at construction sites, architecture firms, banks and law firms. They also bring improv actors to teach students how to network.

In their final exercise, students formulate a deal to present to the group. A group of private investors, led by Greene and Bobo, then consider investing. A recent Detroit program culminated with the acquisition of two duplex properties in Bagley and New Center, with 20 percent of the residual cash flow and investor profits allocated to the students as scholarship money. The current Detroit program is based on our acquisition of a downtown hotel.

Cedric Bobo and Fred Greene address South Bronx students for Project Destined.

Project Destined most recently partnered with HERE to HERE, a Bronx-based career pathways nonprofit, to kick off its latest iteration. This June, students participated in a day-long “ideas challenge” for a chance to join Project Destined’s full program in the fall.

One participating student is Vanyely Liriano, who is coming into her senior year. Her plan is to become a doctor; she says Greene and Bobo introduced real estate to her as “a side hustle… something to support me as I get my doctoral degree.”

For this summer’s ideas challenge, she and a group of students analyzed a property in Times Square, Manhattan and made recommendations to the owner. (They suggested filling a vacant commercial space with an arcade or aquarium.) “It gave me a little taste of what it’s like to be in the business world,” Liriano says.

In her hometown of the South Bronx, an area that’s seen its share of gentrification, “I would like to see the youth more involved,” Liriano says. “We’re in this new generation, where I think the input of the youth will be very important to make the community better.”

Emily Nonko is a social justice and solutions-oriented reporter based in Brooklyn, New York. She covers a range of topics for Next City, including arts and culture, housing, movement building and transit. 

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Tags: new york cityreal estatedetroityouth

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