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Amazon launches program for real estate developers of color

More than $21 million committed to the pilot program

The Amazon Housing Equity Fund announced on Wednesday a $21 million-plus commitment to pilot a professional training, mentorship and capital funding program to help promote real estate developers of color in Amazon’s corporate locales.

The two-year part-time professional development program is free for participants and aims to teach real estate developers of color how to advance their careers and lower barriers they face when bidding for affordable housing developments.

Amazon hopes the program will increase the number of professional real estate developers of color who are focused on affordable housing and inclusive community building.

According to a 2019 Urban Land Institute survey, 5% of its U.S. members are Black, compared to the 13% of the overall U.S. population that identifies as Black.

“With this accelerator program, we are laser focused on lifting up emerging real estate developers of color. We want to foster their professional growth through education and training, as well as improve their access to capital, which can be elusive to developers of color,” Catherine Buell, the director of the Amazon Housing Equity Fund, said in a statement.

In order to achieve its goal, the Amazon Housing Equity Fund has partnered with local social impact and civil rights organizations, The Local Initiative Support Corporation in Puget Sound, Capital Impact Partners in Northern Virginia, and The Urban League of Middle Tennessee in Nashville.

Initially, the program will support up to 30 participants, who will be selected by each partner organization. Selected participants must identify as a person of color, have work experience as a developer at a real estate development firm or organization, and work the Puget Sound region of Washington state, the Arlington region of Virginia and Nashville, TN.

The program will provide participants virtual and in-person instruction on real estate fundamentals, including public policy and the best financial practices, networking opportunities with industry leaders and established real estate developers, and access to capital for pre-development expenses.

In addition, Amazon in partnering with Enterprise Community Loan Fund, Inc. to administer grants of up to $200,000 to qualified real estate developers of color operating in one of Amazon’s three regions.

The pilot program is part of the larger $2 billion Amazon Housing Equity Fund, the main objective of which is to create and preserve 20,000 affordable homes for individuals and families earning moderate to low incomes in Puget Sound, Northern Virginia and Nashville areas.

Amazon, which is valued at nearly $1.8 trillion, has been criticized for its impact on local housing markets in areas where it has opened corporate offices. Home prices in Northern Virginia, for example, soared after Amazon announced it would be building a large corporate center in the Arlington area.

The company has also been criticized for receiving a litany of tax breaks at the local, state and federal level and not paying its fair share of taxes. In Tennessee, Amazon received more than $100 million in tax breaks for its Nashville operations.

In 2020, Amazon paid an effective federal income tax rate of 9.4%, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, less than half the country’s official corporate tax rate of 21%.