Editor’s Note: Finance & Commerce is publishing a series of five articles that will introduce readers to Black, Indigenous, People of Color [BIPOC] developers and their projects in and around the Twin Cities. Each story sheds light on some of the opportunities and challenges faced by developers of color.
When Jennifer Kuria migrated to the Twin Cities about 20 years ago from her native Kenya, she had no background in construction. But the new American, who relocated along with her son and daughter, proved to be a fast learner.
Leaning on her background in international finance and her willingness to try something new, Kuria found her calling as a provider of affordable housing in underserved areas of Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park and other metro area cities.
Today, with dozens of renovation and new construction projects under her belt, Kuria owns and operates Jenny Investments LLC and Amani Construction & Renovations, which provides a range of construction services.
She has also established herself as one of the few Black homebuilders in the area.
Getting there hasn’t been easy. As a woman and a person of color, Kuria learned quickly that she would have to work extra hard and dig a little deeper to make it in a Twin Cities building and development business still dominated by white men.
“Looking around, there were very few people who looked like me — and I did not know any women of color in construction,” Kuria said. “I did not have a support system and had to pave my own path.”
Kuria’s experience is consistent with a recent report conducted by Minnesota-based JOG Associates for LISC Twin Cities, a nonprofit organization devoted to making investments in underserved areas.
The JOG Associates report finds that white males “dominate the real estate development industry” and that white business networks “tend to exclude” developers of color. Systemic racism and lack of access to capital are among the obstacles to greater diversity.
Along with her sister and business partner, who is a real estate broker, Kuria is dedicated to not just building affordable homes, but also educating BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] people that homeownership is within their reach.
“Most people in the BIPOC community do not really believe they can actually own a home,” Kuria said. “They think home ownership is out of reach due to huge down payments and credit score requirements.
“So it’s actually a learning process. … We work hand-in-hand to educate these buyers and show them the possibilities of owning a home — for example, finding down payment assistance programs.”
A fresh start in Minnesota
Kuria knows first-hand what it’s like to settle in a new home.
Saying goodbye to Kenya, she was drawn to the U.S. to pursue new opportunities and reunite with family members. Two sisters had already moved to Minneapolis, so it was a logical destination.
Once settled, Kuria struggled to find a job that matched her skills in international banking. She settled for an entry-level position at Wells Fargo.
But Kuria had come too far, both literally and figuratively, to do a 9-to-5 job. She soaked up as much knowledge as she could in that entry-level position and set her sights on bigger and better things.
The job turned out to be blessing in disguise. Through her work, Kuria learned the ins and outs of processing loans, buying and selling properties, and making a living in real estate and development.
“I was very curious and inquired how the process worked,” Kuria recalled.
That experience inspired Kuria to strike out on her own as a property owner and investor. Partnering with another investor, she used her savings and some borrowed money to buy, renovate and resell a small house.
It took off from there.
“I think we did two or three properties and then I started working on my own,” Kuria said. “In a nutshell, that’s how I started.”
Just getting started in the business can be daunting for anyone. For people of color, there’s another layer of challenges. Among those is convincing a bank that you can deliver on projects that are often viewed as risky, she says.
Working on everything from financing to project management, emerging developers have a lot of balls to juggle and plates to spin as they try to navigate the choppy waters of real estate development.
And when your support system is limited, the navigation process is that much harder.
“If you’re wearing all the hats in your company, it can be challenging to get everything accomplished,” she said.
Still, Kuria is finding opportunities.
Among other projects, she’s dipping her toes into modular home construction, and is working with the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans on its efforts to end veteran homelessness in the Twin Cities.
Kuria has partnered with the city of Minneapolis on its Minneapolis Homes rehab program. Through the program, the city and its partners acquire vacant and boarded homes with one to four units and prepare them for sale as affordable housing.
Roxanne Kimball, manager of the Minneapolis Homes program, said Kuria has completed a number of projects in partnership with the city, and has regularly finished projects on time and within the expectations of the program.
Through the Minneapolis HOMES financing program, Kuria was recently awarded five projects that will create two twin homes and three single-family homes, all of which will be sold as affordable homes at 80% area median income, Kimball said.
“She has been a critical participant in our programs,” Kimball said.
Kuria has also worked on housing projects with Land Bank Twin Cities. Land Bank Twin Cities and its project partners purchase homes, rehab them to green standards, and then sell them as affordable housing.
“We noticed Jenny right away, because there’s … a higher level of design and detail and care in the rehabs that that she did,” said Eddie Landenberger, vice president with Land Bank Twin Cities. “Everyone just naturally rallies around her because they see that higher level of business acumen and effort in all of our projects.”
Though the landscape remains challenging for developers of color, Kuria is hopeful about the future. Since the May 2020 death of George Floyd, which sparked a national awakening on issues of race, “we are hoping for change in the right direction,” she said.
“A lot of organizations, county and city governments are reaching out to BIPOC communities to understand the challenges we’ve all been facing,” said Kuria, who hopes to eventually develop larger multifamily projects.
“We are looking and hoping for change and support for generations to come – not just for us, but for our children and also our children’s children.”
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Source link : https://finance-commerce.com/2021/11/kenya-born-builder-finds-niche/
Publish date : 2021-11-16 22:24:21