The past two years have injected unexpected challenges across multiple industries, including real estate, requiring business owners like me to identify and apply nuanced solutions to an evolving marketplace.
When I started DC Urban Living in 2005, I wrote out detailed business plans, saved money and leaned heavily on people in the real estate industry to provide mentorship and guidance. Although I had contingency plans for unexpected hardships, like any business owner, I had hoped I would never need to use them.
My contingencies went out the window with the realization we were looking at well over a year of pandemic-related shutdowns and slowdowns. Like most businesses, and especially those within the real estate industry, we faced many challenges. Initially, the Washington, D.C., housing market slowed to a creep; people weren’t selling homes or looking to move. Then the market experienced a sharp accelerated recovery in which simple homes were receiving dozens of bids that often priced out first-time homebuyers and those with low to moderate incomes. Practically speaking, the housing market was on pause for the bulk of my first-time homebuyer clients.
We held on throughout those months but at times it was overwhelming. For a business owner of color, the hurdles are even higher. When building DC Urban Living, an important driver was access to capital. But studies have shown that white entrepreneurs are able to contribute considerably more personal equity to their new businesses than entrepreneurs of color, because white American families have nearly 10 times as much wealth as Hispanic or Black American families.
While inequities existed before the pandemic, they’ve deepened. Beyond the physical toll of COVID-19, which affected diverse communities more severely than white ones, people-of-color-owned businesses have had less of a safety net, have been more likely to close and have had a harder time getting Paycheck Protection Program loans. Studies have shown the pandemic shuttered Black-owned businesses at more than double the rate of white-owned ones.
As a business owner, the past two years have taught me what it will take to build an equitable road back and get on even footing going forward. First and foremost, there needs to be an investment in people of color-owned businesses from the public, private and nonprofit sectors.
In the fall of 2020, I applied to the Comcast RISE program which, to date, has invested in more than 8,000 small businesses owned by people of color nationwide through monetary grants and technology and marketing services. DC Urban Living received the Comcast RISE technology makeover, which provided immediate relief by covering the cost of our Comcast Business Internet service for an entire year. It also equipped us with new technology like iPads and laptops. While we were already a technology-forward company, the additional equipment and financial support has provided relief when it was most needed.
Washington, D.C., was also one of six cities included in the latest round of the Comcast RISE Investment Fund, whereby 100 small businesses owned by people of color, including DC Urban Living, each were awarded a $10,000 grant – an infusion of $1 million into D.C.-based small businesses.
Since that time, Comcast also announced the expansion of Comcast RISE to all women-owned businesses nationwide, furthering its efforts to advance digital equity and provide underrepresented small business owners with access to tools and funding. I encourage any small businesses who qualify to apply at ComcastRISE.com.
We need similar commitments to level the playing field for business owners, and federal, state and local recovery programs also need to target minority entrepreneurs. Too many of the existing relief efforts have had limited application windows or are first-come, first-served, which disadvantages businesses that are already starting from behind.
Finally, financial institutions need better guardrails to ensure they don’t discriminate against non-white business owners. Keeping checks and balances on those with the balance sheets is the only way to make sure all businesses are starting on equal footing.
That way, when the next crisis hits, fewer businesses will start from behind and we’ll all find our way to recovery much faster. For all of us, that’s a business plan worth holding onto.
Keisha Streeter-Clark is principal broker & owner of DC Urban Living, a full-service real estate firm specializing in commercial and residential sales in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.