2019 WLI REGIONAL SUMMIT - Equity in Land Use & Leadership: Aug 7-9
Early-bird registration ends June 15!
ULI St. Louis is committed to partnering with community organizations to further racial and socioeconomic equity in the St. Louis region, especially in the realm of real estate development. One of ULI St. Louis’ partners is Dream Builders 4 Equity, a non-profit that works to provide at-risk youth with work skills and the opportunity to attain financial ownership in real estate located in low-income, highly distressed communities.
In June, ULI St. Louis partnered with Dream Builders to introduce student participants to UrbanPlan, a ULI program created to teach high school students about the challenges and complexities surrounding land use development through hands-on learning, real-life economics lessons, and interaction with local real estate professionals. The goal of ULI’s UrbanPlan is to help develop a more educated citizenry, and facilitate a more sophisticated level of discourse and debate, so that the students – as future business people, policy makers, citizens, and voters – can work together to make the best decisions for creating and sustaining the best possible communities.
It was a natural fit: Dream Builders focuses on building opportunity and agency for vulnerable youth by teaching them construction skills and inviting them to participate in sparking development in low‐income/highly distressed communities. ULI offers a program that helps build knowledge and agency so that students can help make their communities the best they can be.
Dream Builders teaches youth participants construction skills as a means of building equity, work skills, and opening doors for themselves. Youth attain co-ownership in real estate properties by participating in life- and job-skill courses and contributing to community-development efforts.
Youth in the program are also required to collectively publish a book describing their experiences, how the program benefits their present lives and will assist them in the future, and how they plan to continue to provide support to underserved communities.
The profits earned from the real estate and book sales are allocated to their college tuition and/or other educational expenses.
The Dream Builders program is designed not only to train students for a sense of ownership and agency in their own communities, but also to spark development in low‐income/highly distressed communities. Real estate development can be extremely difficult in low‐income and highly distressed communities without subsidies due to low home values, costs of rehab or construction, vacant and blighted neighboring properties, high crime rates, and lack of community support. These sorts of investments are perceived as low profit with high risk.
The Dream Builders model allows youth to gain knowledge and skills that they invest in their communities, and then they can see how that investment brings returns to them. Profits from co-owned real estate property sales are allocated to students’ college tuition and other educational expenses, and students are paid bi-weekly while working to rehab properties in distressed communities.
Dream Builders 4 Equity was founded by Michael Woods and Neal Richardson. Neil’s experience as a child growing up in a struggling St. Louis city neighborhood has an ongoing impact on his current career. Neal works as a Project Manager at U.S. Bank’s Community Development Corporation, where he has led the closing of over $150 million in tax credit financing investments targeted for low-income communities.
Michael also co-founded Dream Builders in 2016, and now serves as Executive Director. Michael is a St. Louis native and north city resident, a certified personal trainer, published author, and entrepreneur. As Executive Director, Michael is leading the effort for Dream Builders programming to support students at three different schools across the city. In 2017, Dream Builders 4 Equity was selected as one of the awardees of Washington University’s Social Enterprise Innovation Competition, competing in a field of more than 150 startups. Also in 2017, they launched their first pilot at Beaumont High School.
Dream Builders believes that equitable opportunities are foundational for youth to realize their fullest potential, and aims to provide-at-risk youth with access to a diverse and broad set of assets through mentorship, entrepreneurship, scholarship, and leadership training. The idea is that access to these assets will provide participating youth with the necessary skills to succeed academically and professionally, and also to attain ownership in the development of low-income/highly distressed communities — the very communities they were raised in.
Michael and Neal’s vision for Dream Builders stems out of the recognition that many communities in St. Louis lack the ownership and agency to build a future that they can look forward to with great hope. Michael and Neal claim this is the result of several factors, including a high number of vacant properties in the City. Boarded-up buildings appear in even some of the most developed neighborhoods in St. Louis, a result of steep population decline starting in the middle of the 20th century, with a population peak of 856,796 at the 1950 census, and an estimated 2018 population of 302,838. But vacant and dilapidated properties are heavily concentrated in North City where there is widespread blight.
A second factor contributing to lack of community ownership and agency in St. Louis City, according to Michael and Neal, is that only 43% of residents are homeowners-occupiers, compared to the national average of 63.9%. According to Dream Builders, Lack of home ownership creates community disconnect: when there is no ownership, there is less commitment to stay in the community when career or other opportunities are presented in other areas of the region.
And thirdly, very few residents in North City have a bachelors’ degree. As Michael and Neal put it, “There is no pipeline of educated leaders to advance our communities forward.” Dream Builders program is designed specifically to serve at‐risk youth ages 16-24, in part because poverty and dropouts are inextricably connected. Dream Builders has identified several criteria that can result in at‐risk youth having high absenteeism from school, high dropout rate, lack of positive influences, drug addiction, and participation in other illegal activities.
To ensure the Dream Builders program is utilized to impact those who are in most need of the opportunities provided, each youth member must meet 2 of the 5 following criteria:
For more information about Dream Builders for Equity, visit dreambuilders4equity.org/