Two brothers from south Jamaica, who graduated from an inaugural cohort of a minority-owned business enterprise (MBE) developer incubator program, are breaking barriers in the New York City real estate industry with their family-owned development.
Randall and Roland Powell, who co-founded the Queens development firm Infinite Horizons, are graduates of the LISC Developers of Color Training program that has provided them with the tools and resources to continue to grow their business.
After working in the real estate industry for over three decades in various capacities, Roland, along with his brother Randall, who has worked for developers and contractors, established Infinite Horizons LLC in December 2007.
The Powells had a vision of developing affordable housing in their community of south Jamaica and across the city. They acquire and redevelop underutilized land and blighted properties into safe affordable housing.
“Who else better to serve the community of color than people of color? I’m right here in the neighborhood within a 10-minute walking distance from our next project,” Roland said. “I’ve been living in the neighborhood for 30 years and have seen how the real estate crash has affected my neighbors, who have lost their homes. I understand what it takes to bring the neighborhood back together, or to rebuild the neighborhood.”
The LISC Developers Color of Training program came at the right time, as they struggled to get their organization to a platform where they could do business and large-scale projects, Randall said.
“This program coming along has put us in front of lenders and investors and that’s what we needed since day one when we got into the business,” Randall said. “We have been able to prove that we have the capacity, understanding and support, not only of LISC but also the city Housing Preservation Department and other agencies and organizations to make this path forward.”
The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) is one of the United State’s largest community development finance institutions (CDFI). Since its inception in 1979, LISC has been supporting projects and programs to revitalize communities and bring greater economic opportunities to residents.
Valerie White, who is the executive director of LISC NY, launched the Developers of Color Training program in November 2021 to help MBE developers expand their capacity and project access while becoming more competitive as the city’s housing project pipeline grows and more market opportunities arise.
The program helps developers of color enhance their networks, gain access to capital and build their capacity to expand their existing portfolio of business and contracts. The curriculum is developed in partnership with Columbia University and Queens-based R.F. Wilkins Consultants.
“We all know that looking at contractual opportunities, developers of color are not able to have the same opportunities as non-minority developers,” White said. “We wanted to come up with a program that would be of assistance.”
According to White, there’s cultural integrity that comes with developers who look like the community for whom they’re building and understanding those complexities.
“If we are looking to close the racial wealth gap, then equitable opportunities need to be made to developers of color, and the real estate industry is that economic engine that can help close that racial wealth gap,” White said. “You’re bringing two things together, bringing a cultural integrity and sensitivity into rebuilding parts of the city, while providing an opportunity for owners of color to gain wealth by having access to contractors.”
Upon completion of the program, the Powells have learned how to create marketing materials to present their business to potential investors, an understanding of construction, learning how to be more clear in joint-venture partnerships, their stake and role within a project and how to expand into new opportunities.
The Powells say they’re appreciative of LISC NY and the Developers of Color Training program for recognizing the work they’re trying to do in the community.
“We understand that it’s a path, but when you have partners that will be on that path and can help you through the process, it doesn’t seem as burdensome and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Randall said.
The Powell’s have been awarded a site in the Melrose section of the Bronx, where they will construct a building with community and retail space. They’re also planning to transform a cluster of vacant lots in their neighborhood of south Jamaica.
As the Powells move their project forward, they have been asked to mentor high school and college students who are interested in learning more about the real estate development industry.
“We hope that our story and what we’ve done encourages people in the community and even outside of the community to know that if you hold the line and pursue your dreams and try to do good work, people will recognize you for it,” Randall said. “There’s always a stigma that as Black or Latin community, we always have outsiders coming in and helping us, but there’s so much talent within our own ranks and our community. Sometimes we have to stand back and take a look — that’s where the diversity, equity and inclusion really comes in.”