What We Learned in Our Corridor Lab

by Kevin Jones, Content Curator, Neighborhood Economics

When the Neighborhood Economics team pulls together one of our Wednesday Deep Dives, we look for issues that need sustained conversation, analysis, and connection. Of particular interest to me this Spring were new platforms that deliver economic justice through philanthropic investment in local communities, creating wealth in the neighborhoods often left behind. 

There are neighborhoods, zip codes in your city, where, most likely, people die 10 years younger than they do in other neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods are almost always subsidizing the more affluent neighborhoods in your town. In my town, one neighborhood that was redlined and denied government backed mortgages has paid $1.2 million more than it should on property tax, while an affluent neighborhood a quarter of a mile away has been undertaxed by $4.1 million. Neighborhood Economics  focuses  on paths to community-led  wealth creation for neighborhoods in those situations. 

To channel new investment dollars into those zip codes, you need new ways to tell the story. The conversation in our Corridors Lab is one of those new ways to tell the story. What those neighborhoods that are overtaxed, less healthy, and economically burdened are facing is displacement, as gentrifying developers take advantage of low prices in a place with little economic activity.

What those neighborhoods need is holistic investment that sees that you can’t just focus on the silo of housing, or of entrepreneurial support, or community-owned commercial real estate, while advocates and allies work to subvert redlining at the tax assessor’s office. 

Corridors are that new story of how to invest holistically in place. It breaks down the silos of the ways investors and banks see the community. They are used to housing funds. They are used to commercial real estate, even some with community ownership. But they need to see the bigger picture.

The technical assistance and guidance to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem is important, and this support is finally coming into focus. Neighborhood Economics’ own Jeremiah Robinson created that kind of ecosystem around the Catalyst Fund at Mountain BizWorks, a creative CDFI in Western North Carolina. He is helping in other Corridors to get this work going.

Corridors are a place to fund the entrepreneurial ecosystem, innovative housing solutions, and commercial real estate where the people on the block are among the owners of the block. It’s a story that enables a category of holistic local investing, the kind that is needed, that breaks down program silos and creates the connections that makes a neighborhood economy thrive.

In our Wednesday Deep Dive. in San Antonio,  Adriana Abizadeh of Kensington Corridor helped us understand why this approach works. Kensington is acknowledged as the most complete example so far of this emerging category of holistic, contiguous place-based investing in the zip codes where people die 10 years younger known as corridors. Also in our group were Jay Nwachu, of Innovation Works in Baltimore, Damion Goodman of Rising Crenshaw in Los Angeles, and Miyesha from Local Code. 

Our host in San Antonio was Estar West, a corridor led by Ramiro Gonzalez, with former HUD secretary under President Clinton, Henry Cisneros, involved. Leading the complex facilitation were Olivia Travieso of OCI Group, part of the storytelling team for the San Antonio Corridor, and Lance Gilliam, managing partner of Concentric Community Advisors in Houston. We so appreciate these new friends in Texas and all of the work they did to make this lab work.

There were hours of sharing by the Corridor leaders, both in the sessions over three days and at meals or at parties in the evening. They got to know what each platform brought to the table. An important observer was a representative of one of the four banks that is considering an investor that could take Estar West to the next level. They have funding from the creative early adopting foundations, like the San Antonio Areas Foundation and the San Antonio Spurs basketball team.

The corridor deep dive had three goals, and it accomplished them all. The practitioners shared their works, their successes and their barriers. The early majority funders, the funders who are not yet in the deal, sat through all three days, including the intensive half day deep dive. 

And the category of corridors was validated: it became clearer to potential funders that a holistic, ecosystem approach to community economic development produced better results and is on its way to becoming an easier box to check when allocating capital for locally focused investors. 

But this is only what happened in the Corridor lab. Another set of meetings helped guide several local foundations into imagining if they dropped their siloed, program style of giving to education, health, etc., but instead devoted themselves to a place based-approach; most of the philanthropy for specific problems gets focused on those zip codes Neighborhood Economics focuses on. So why not drop the categories and devote themselves to a place,which would enable them to fund more holistic projects; things like corridors.

Sometimes what’s going on in the next room can alter the landscape for the people in the room down the hall. That is why we do what we do. Neighborhood Economics makes the connections that make economic justice work more efficient and effective. We help create a path to thriving communities.