PHDC wants to create long-term partnerships with its new Minority Developer Program
The new pilot targeting Black and Brown developers trains them on the application and compliance process for city contracts,offers them work and further growth opportunities.
According to Angel Rodriguez, senior vice president of land services at the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC), plans for a Minority Developer Program at the organization have been a priority for President David Thomas since November 2019.
“And then, obviously, the pandemic hit,” said Rodriguez.
After pivoting like the rest of the world to a completely virtual format, discussions resumed on development of the program in June and July of 2020.
Fast forward to Aug. 25, 2021, and PHDC and the City of Philadelphia officially announced the launch of a pilot version of the Minority Developer Program (MDP), targeting specifically Black and Brown developers in the city with assistance applying for city contracts and later, business to help them scale up their operations over time.
“I view applicants as clients,” said Rodriguez.
For him, the program also creates an opportunity to develop long-term partnerships with the participating developers and firms.
“This is not a quick, six-week training and then you’re out,” he said. “We’re looking for people who want to join us and have a lengthy relationship.”
In that length of time, which Rodriguez estimates should be around three years to be effective, the hope for partnering developers is for them to be able to scale up their operations in both the number of projects they undertake and financing.
The start of that growth is being able to decipher and effectively complete the city application process for contracts. During a listening tour with developers and communities in the city that preceded the unveiling of the MDP, the number one piece of feedback was about the complicated application process.
“Doing business with the city is really difficult and not for the faint of heart,” said Rodriguez.
It’s why the first step in the MDP is what he called a “high-touch” training to get through the city compliance.
“We understand you can’t just pick up one of our applications and automatically do it,” said Rodriguez.
The program breaks down the application process into parts, including the requirements — both financial and legal — developers must meet to be eligible for contracts, among other thresholds.
“The better we do at explaining what we’re looking for… the better product we’ll get, the better development we’ll get, and we’ll get a partner,” said Rodriguez.
By targeting Black and Brown developers, the program also works to cut down on the massive disparity in the real estate and construction industry on who gets contracts from the city and elsewhere.
In a press release announcing the pilot program’s launch, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney pointed to the disparity as one of the main reasons behind the MDP’s creation.
"As we equitably recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and its human and economic toll, the Minority Developer Program (MDP) will allow us to expand more opportunities to small developers and create jobs while supporting an inclusive construction workforce," his statement read.
Rodriguez said the scope and scale of some contracts is often what excludes smaller, minority-run firms from accessing them.
It’s tied to the bigger issue of the lack of capital access often facing Black and Brown businesses, bringing back the importance of tying the teaching of the application process to future business opportunities in the case of the MDP.
“This is business development at its core,” said Rodriguez.
He continued to say that PHDC is currently working with City Council to identify what projects to offer as part of the program, which could include affordable housing among other developments.
As for language accessibility, Rodriguez said applications for the program are bilingual and that PHDC is still working to get materials for the training in Spanish.
“We have the budget for it,” he said.
To apply for the Minority Developer Program, complete the RFQ here. The deadline for submission of all application materials is Sept. 27, 2021 at 3 p.m.
This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.