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Black Developers Forum Celebrates Accomplishments

“Black developers should have the same opportunities that any other developer has to build great projects that benefit the community,” said Don Gilmore, executive director of the Community Housing Development Corporation and BDF’s vice president. “But the inequities in funding and related regulations have been and continue to be a barrier, and we will no longer be silent. We’re using our collective voice and resources to demand that Black developers be provided the equitable opportunities that have eluded us for so long.”

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BDF advocates for federal and state policies that have historically discriminated against and disenfranchised Black developers and Black-led organizations.
BDF advocates for federal and state policies that have historically discriminated against and disenfranchised Black developers and Black-led organizations.

Caption: Black Developers Forum Board of Directors with State Treasurer Fiona Ma, center. Photo courtesy of the Black Developers Forum.

By Marla A. Matime

On October 3, the Black Developers Forum (BDF), held a cocktail reception at the Minna Gallery in San Francisco. A standing-room-only event, many of the state’s Black developers filled the room, to celebrate BDF’s first year as a California-based non-profit advocacy organization striving to eradicate inequities in the development of affordable housing. The event followed the 43rd annual Non-Profit Housing (NPH) Conference also held in San Francisco.

BDF is a network of Black affordable housing developers and industry supporters committed to creating communities that provide safe, healthy living environments, educational opportunities, and housing to people of the African Diaspora.

The reception was also a means for raising money to support the work and advocacy of BDF. The funds raised go to support BDF in creating workshops and trainings for Black developers and industry professionals.

Black developers need allies in positions of influence and decision-making to receive equitable consideration for housing dollars for communities of color. The BDF Cocktail Reception provided a great opportunity to bring these critical parties together.

Keynote speaker, California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, spoke about the BIPOC allocation pool, a $112 million set aside for Blacks and other minority developers which was initiated by former Deputy Treasurer Jovan Agee and created in 2021.

This set aside addresses the needs of minority developers who lacked access to capital and relationships with the major banks to provide lines of credit and other financing products. Creating this allocation pool was a significant priority for the Black Developers Forum and Treasurer Ma.

Ma also explained that without the allocation, Black developers would not only lack equitable access to funding capital, but also be left out of the loop to build affordable housing that addresses a primary goal: to reduce harmful carbon emissions. This would be accomplished through the production and logistics of delivering the materials to the development sites and use of clean energy components that would go into the final touches of building structures.

She went on to specify why these opportunities are important not just for the developers, but also for the communities that they serve. Providing affordable housing, workforce housing, and access to education and resources will help underrepresented communities of color by hopefully inspiring them to become homeowners, which in turn will help pull these families out of a cycle of poverty. Ma is up for re-election on November 8.

“Building back our sustainable communities through a lens of equity is a top priority,” said Cherene Sandidge, president of the Sandidge Urban Group, Inc and president of BDF.

Her passion and drive to ensure Black developers receive equitable opportunities is why she accepted the position to lead BDF. Sandidge also acknowledged partners who were in attendance, specifically Lourdes Castro Ramirez who is secretary of California’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, who has “had our back since the beginning.”

Don Gilmore, executive director of the Community Housing Development Corporation and BDF’s vice president said “Black-led affordable housing developers have been subjected to the systemic inequities in State funding of affordable housing projects, which created barriers to us receiving the opportunity to build in our own communities. The Black Developers Forum formed to provide us with a collective voice to call out these inequities and positively impact how current and future legislation is shaped.”

He also noted that, “Black developers should have the same opportunities that any other developer has to build great projects that benefit the community, but the inequities in funding and related regulations have been and continue to be a barrier, and we will no longer be silent. We’re using our collective voice and resources to demand that Black developers be provided the equitable opportunities that have eluded us for so long.”

When asked about the responses from the state on equitable policies, practices and laws, Gilmore said, “We have received positive responses from all levels of our government and have been awarded for taking a stand and being change agents for a system of equitable policies, practices and laws. This represents forward progress and we’re happy to be a grassroots advocacy organization whose work will create a system of equitable practices that future generations can benefit from.”

BDF addresses institutional issues that have prohibited wealth-building and the continued disenfranchisement of Black developers, Black-led organizations, and Black individuals. There are over 50 members within the Forum including developers, both in the for-profit and non-profit sectors, as well as from the finance, construction, property management, and other industry professionals.

Further, BDF advocates for federal and state policies that have historically discriminated against and disenfranchised Black developers and Black-led organizations.

A goal that has not been met, and is an ongoing effort, is to ensure that practices, policies, and regulations are instated to allow Black developers and other people of color within the industry, fair and equitable scoring on development applications, equitable funding opportunities, and equitable experience requirements through the BIPOC Set Aside. Additionally, BDF was able to change the CDLAC regulations to allow more Black developers to access capital and create the BIPOC set aside.

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Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Activism

16th Annual MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

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“…Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

The event was hosted by Urban Tilth and the City of Richmond. Event partners were Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides, Moving Forward, Hope Worldwide, The Watershed Project, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, Building Blocks for Kids, City of Richmond, Cal Cameron Institute, Friends of the Richmond Greenway; and Pogo Park.

The celebration made possible with the support of the Hellman Family Foundation, City of Richmond, and hundreds of individual donors.

The day’s schedule included volunteer projects along the Richmond Greenway and a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and community celebration at Unity Park.

Among the community service projects were opportunities to take part in projects to transform and beautify the Richmond Greenway Trail, like tending to the Greenway Gardens, trash pickup, and planting native plant and trees.

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Activism

Sheng Thao Sworn in as New Mayor of Oakland, Pledges New Direction for the City

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

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Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.
Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao appoints HNU’s Dr. Kimberly Mayfield as deputy mayor

By Ken Epstein

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees who overcame homelessness and domestic abuse to attend university and build a life for herself and her family in Oakland, received the official oath of office Monday afternoon as the new mayor of the City of Oakland.

Sworn in at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, she stood on stage surrounded by friends, family, and staff members. She was flanked by her son Ben Ventura, who performed a musical piece on the cello, and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao.

The mayor called on Oaklanders to join with her to create a more humane, inclusive, and just city. She spoke about her commitment as a progressive to significantly improve the quality of life for residents, making the city safer and cleaner, building 30,000 units of truly affordable housing, fostering jobs, promoting economic development, supporting small businesses and providing solutions to homelessness that recognize the dignity of the unsheltered.

“I know what we can do together, Oakland,” she said. “Our city’s’ best days are still to come. The Oakland that we all know is possible and within our reach.”

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

In her remarks, the mayor focused on the city’s long fight to become more inclusive and equitable.

“We believe everyone deserves a seat at the table, not just a few, not just the wealthy, not just the well-connected,” she said.

“Sometimes, we take our shared progressive values for granted, our advances toward justice and equality,” said Mayor Thao.

She reminded people that “a…century ago, our city was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan (where) Klan members burned crosses in our hills and marched through our streets. As recently as the1970s, freeways were made possible by tearing down thriving Black, Latino, and Asian communities,” she continued.

“We recognize what we have overcome together to remember what is worth fighting for every day…(and) to take stock of how far we still have to go.”

Promising a “comprehensive” approach to public safety to make all neighborhoods in the city safer, she said she would bolster anti-crime programs like Ceasefire and “we will fill (police) vacancies with home-grown police officers who know our community, who look like us.”

At the same time, she said, the city must increase opportunities for young people, reinvigorating the summer jobs program (for youth) and enhance the school-to-work pipeline so young people can gain experience and job skills.

She said she would beef up the many city departments that are currently operating on skeleton staffing, promising to fill the staffing vacancies that “plague our city.”

Mayor Thao said she herself is a renter, and that she “will fiercely protect Oakland renters. If you are a renter in Oakland, you’ve got a mayor who’s got your back.”

Speaking about the Oakland A’s proposed waterfront real estate development promoted by former Mayor Libby Schaaf, Mayor Thao said the city will continue negotiations to keep the team “rooted in Oakland.”

“Working closely with the A’s, I’m hopeful we can reach a good deal, (based) on our Oakland values,” she said.

The former mayor’s plan for building the proposed waterfront real estate development at the Port of Oakland was dealt a major setback this week when Oakland failed to secure more than $180 million in federal funds to help pay for infrastructure development for the project.

Speaking of the importance of the appointment of Mayfield as deputy mayor, the Mayor’s Office explained her role in the new administration:

“Mayor Thao was thrilled Kimberly Mayfield agreed to join her team because of her tremendous and longstanding leadership in Oakland. In recognition of her vast experience, it was decided that the best role for her would be as deputy mayor where she will be an instrumental part of the leadership of both the Office and Oakland.”

In her introduction at the Paramount Theatre, Mayfield said, “Today is not about political agendas…It’s about the power of the people…it’s a recognition of the rejection of the status quo. This new chapter begins with a mayor that understands how to build a culture that works for everyone. Thank you, Mayor Thao for the opportunity to serve.”

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