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Growing Pains: Lack of diversity in development leads to inequities in Charlotte

Accountability paired with diversifying the industry of developers could be steps toward a solution

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charles Thomas says it's like joining a game of Monopoly, after several rounds in.

"All the properties have been purchased, bought up," says Thomas. "That has been the challenge with the African America community in America."

That's how Thomas describes the gentrification hitting Charlotte's most vulnerable communities. 

Charles Thomas leads a team under The Knight Foundation which focuses on development in Charlotte's historic West End neighborhood. 

Charlotte has experienced record-breaking growth over the past decade, and Queen City natives and longtime residents have watched its skyline grow. 

Out of the expansion has re-emerged issues of race, equity and access in what used to be a rural city.

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Data from a 2020 report by the U.S. Federal Reserve shows Black business owners apply for bank financing at a slightly higher rate than white, Asian American and Latino or Hispanic business owners, but more than half of Black applicants are turned down, which far exceeds the rate for the other demographics.

Those denial statistics are:

  • Black applicants - 53%
  • White applicants - 25%
  • Asian applicants - 35%
  • Latino/Hispanic applicants - 39%

"There's not a lot of commercial real estate conversations happening in the minority department anywhere," Nicholas Riggins tells WCNC Charlotte's Kia Murray. "It's mostly happening to them." 

Riggings sits on Johnson C. Smith's advisory board to its College of Business: it focuses on connecting the historically Black college campus to Charlotte's business community.

Part of the effort is to train up diverse developers.

 It's a difficult task in an industry reliant on access to capital and generational wealth.

"That pipeline doesn't exist locally [so] we kind of stay in this perpetual place of being on the lower end of that bell curve," said Riggins. 

WCNC Charlotte previously dug into the mortgage industry and found disparities there as well. Some of Charlotte's largest lending agencies denied Black applicants two to three times more often than their white counterparts in 2018 and 2019, a WCNC Charlotte investigation found. Accountability paired with diversifying the industry of developers could contribute towards a more equitable game.

RELATED: Largest lenders deny home loans for Black applicants up to three times more often than whites

"North Carolina has always been bold, and the city of Charlotte has always been bolder than the state itself," Riggins shared. 

In light of that, Riggins is suggesting an even bolder approach: Consortium. A consortium means an association of multiple businesses or partners focused on the same goal: Making lending more accessible to communities and individuals struggling to access the resources necessary to shape the city.

"If we can focus all those resources in one place and specifically focus it on development, then we can increase participation and effort," Riggins explained.

That effort and participation would have to start today. 

Contact Kia Murray at kmurray@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookX and Instagram.

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