Business & Economy

Minnesota coalition gathers nearly $1B in pledges to help build wealth in Black communities

People sitting on a stage listen to someone talking
The GroundBreak Coalition, which includes more than 40 corporate, civic and philanthropic organizations in Minnesota, announced Tuesday at a gathering at Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis that it's received pledges of nearly $1 billion to help build wealth in Black communities.
Courtesy of GroundBreak Coalition

A coalition of more than 40 corporate, civic and philanthropic organizations in Minnesota announced Tuesday that it’s received pledges of nearly $1 billion to help build wealth in Black communities.

The GroundBreak Coalition was formed after the murder of George Floyd to help close racial wealth gaps in Minnesota, by expanding opportunities for homeownership, entrepreneurship and commercial development.

The pledges announced Tuesday come from 10 foundations and financial institutions. They represent “a significant step towards GroundBreak’s goal of mobilizing $5.3 billion over the next decade to equitably expand wealth-building through an innovative approach shaped by community members,” the coalition announced in a news release.

Organizers said each dollar of that money can unlock $3 in private-sector capital for “aspiring homeowners, entrepreneurs and commercial developers.”

Financial tools and products from the initial money pledged are slated to be available to people in the region by the end of next year.

Speaking to a large gathering on Tuesday morning in Minneapolis, McKnight Foundation President Tonya Allen said the goal is to “reimagine how dollars flow in our region.”

“Fundamentally, it’s helping people realize their aspirations. Now, that might seem like a really simple statement. But a lot of times, we all come to this talking about how we want to close people’s gaps — as if people are deficits. Well, in actuality, the people we’re talking about are assets, and they have aspirations. And if we can help them achieve that, then we are all better as a result of it,” she told the crowd.

“When we change who the money flows to, with the focus on building wealth in the BIPOC communities, and starting with Black wealth-builders, we increase prosperity for everyone,” she said.

The GroundBreak statement said its efforts would include a new mortgage product “that would allow financial institutions to offer the same or similar special bank loans with flexible underwriting. For homebuyers, this means a set of banks across the region would expand eligibility for loans by adopting less stringent methods of assessing risk such as high credit scores and personal wealth.”

The coalition also aims to provide financial assistance to homebuyers, and to help homeowners cover emergency repairs. That money will be distributed through existing nonprofits, banks and community groups.

Kevin Bennett is senior program officer for the Minneapolis-based GHR Foundation. He said Tuesday the pledges of more than $1 billion mean “that these resources will start flowing abundantly, reliably — and most importantly, permanently. So that aspiring homeowners, small business owners, developers can pursue the type of transformation that we want in our community.”

Gov. Tim Walz called the effort “transformational.”

“It’s essential to our survival as a state, both morally and economically, that you’re successful,” he told the crowd Tuesday.

“If this does not happen, we will continue to deal with the issues that we’ve dealt with. We will continue to spin. We will continue to wring our hands and talk about our homeownership rates being some of the highest in the nation’s — until we desegregate the data and they’re not.”

The 10 banks and foundations who pledged the $926.75 million announced Tuesday include Bremer Bank, Bush Foundation, GHR Foundation, Huntington Bank, M.A. Mortenson Companies Inc., Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, McKnight Foundation, Pohlad Foundation, Securian Financial and U.S. Bank.

Audio transcript

INTERVIEWER: A new coalition has raised nearly $1 billion to create wealth building opportunities for Black homeowners, entrepreneurs, and commercial developers. It's called GroundBreak. And it's made up of more than 40 philanthropic private and public institutions.

Kevin Bennett is senior program officer for the Minneapolis-based GHR Foundation. He spoke at a community event today, announcing the financial commitments.

KEVIN BENNETT: It means that these resources will start flowing abundantly, reliably, and most importantly, permanently, so that aspiring homeowners, small business owners, developers can pursue the type of transformation that we want in our community.

NINA MOINI: Now, this coalition grew from the murder of George Floyd, which brought to light the gross inequities for Black people in Minnesota. This $1 billion isn't just grants or handing out money, but it's looking to transform financial systems that have long disadvantaged Black people.

So joining us now is McKnight Foundation president, Tonya Allen, who is helping lead this charge. Good afternoon, Tonya. Thank you for being here.

TONYA ALLEN: Hi Nina, thank you for having me.

NINA MOINI: Yes, of course. Well, this really seems like a huge undertaking. GroundBreak's laid out goals include 45,000 new BIPOC homeowners, 11,000 new BIPOC entrepreneurs, 30 community-led, climate-ready commercial developments, 23,000 families in affordable housing units-- where do you even begin?

TONYA ALLEN: You begin one step at a time. And I think we've tried to prove through the GroundBreak coalition-- as you know, we started about 18 months ago. And what we were really aiming to do was to make sure that the high quality of life that most Minnesotans experience, that that actually is available to everyone.

And that particularly meant trying to figure out how you create more stable housing, how you create more home ownership, how do you help entrepreneurs get their businesses up, and then how do you make sure that they land in commercial districts that actually make communities thrive. And so that was our ambition around GroundBreak is that we felt like we could do something that feels pretty remarkable in the Twin Cities, because we have the talent, the aspiration, and the capital here to make a pretty significant dent on the racial inequities that we see in our state and most importantly, just really trying to make sure that we're centering the people who have been furthest away from opportunity in these solution sets that we are putting forth.

NINA MOINI: And so I understand this is a 10 year plan.

TONYA ALLEN: It is. Yes, it's a 10 year plan. And just for background for your listeners, I just think it's really important to remind that although our region is one of the most wealthy and prosperous places in the country, we have the 15 largest metropolitan economy, that we see pretty big disparities where Black households make about $50,000 less than white households in our state. And there's a 50 point gap between home ownership from 77% of white households own their home versus 29%, so we really see this as a real opportunity to bring tangible solutions to the table.

So as you can imagine, in our region we have amazing programs that help people try to close these gaps. But those programs are happening at an incremental level. And what GroundBreak is fundamentally trying to do is to scale these solutions and to try and approach it from both a demand side and a supply side, so that we get capital flowing in a way that helps people meet their aspirations and also grows our GDP, continues to position us as a highly effective and prosperous region where everyone can thrive, as well as increasing our tax base, ownership, civic participation. We see this as one of those deeds that can meet multiple needs in our region.

NINA MOINI: Yeah, that's really been the conversation since the murder of George Floyd is how to create meaningful, lasting change. Is that what you mean by creating new financial systems, new financial institutions?

TONYA ALLEN: Yeah, that's exactly right. So what we have found, as you can imagine, is that in our financial systems there are lots of rules and processes that actually exclude people from participating in the financial system. And part of what we've-- some of that is behavioral, some of it is systemic, some of it is based on the rules that we have in the state.

If you think about 2008 where there was a crunch-- the credit box was tightened up pretty significantly, which actually prevented many people of all races of really accessing financial capital. And so what we're trying to do is say, you know what, we can actually open up that credit box again, and actually make it more reasonable and viable to be able to to help people move the needle in terms of their own personal wealth building.

But what I would just say, what we're attempting to do is to find innovative ways to unlock funds from the financial institutions, recognizing that most of that capital is held by the banks. So we're trying to create a shared financial system for every dollar and flexible capital, like from philanthropic dollars or charitable dollars can unlock $3 to $4 in private market capital.

And so by changing these new financial systems, we really aim to increase opportunities for these families that have been excluded and affected by historic policies and practices that have really limited, and in some cases, extracted wealth. So we believe if we do this, it's a national model in front of us.

NINA MOINI: Sure, and so talking about BIPOC communities and just reaching them, how do you plan to reach the people who are in need of this money and that you're aiming to serve?

TONYA ALLEN: Well, we are working with numerous partners who are on the ground. One of the things I just mentioned was that many of these programs exist, and what we're trying to do is really make them far more robust and scalable, so working with those partners who are working on the ground, who can reach the people, who have the trust-based relationships will be critical to that.

And then I think also working with the financial institutions where they're providing training to the people who meet potential lenders at the door. And so if they're meeting them and providing consistent service and support and having consistent programs, universal programs that they can apply for, which is a big part of the GroundBreak coalition, that will help build trust and access for the people that we're hoping to support and enable through this strategy.

NINA MOINI: And we've got just a couple minutes left. And this next question, we could probably talk about it for an hour. But one of the things we've talked a lot about also since the murder of George Floyd has been police reform, public safety. Can you explain how tackling the economic aspect of this is intertwined?

TONYA ALLEN: Well, it's always intertwined, that generally what we find is that neighborhoods where there are lower home ownership, lower ownership in those communities, tend to be over-policed, because you may not have as much income or for a variety of reasons. And we believe that one is that if we help grow homeownership, that's going to have a deep engagement in terms of people having more civic involvements, civic leadership, which should help.

But that by itself-- it'll help, but it's not sufficient for change. There requires real change in the policing system, so I don't want to insinuate that what we're doing is going to have a great impact on that. I think it's going to be a multi-pronged approach of making sure that families have access to employment, increasing their wages, that there are stronger relationships with policing, that there are alternative models that support people who are in deep need, alongside building wealth, right? So I think if we can think about this in a more holistic approach and begin to knit all of these things together, then we can resolve some of these challenges, is what I would argue.

NINA MOINI: Absolutely. Tonya Allen, president of the McKnight Foundation, thank you so much for coming on and talking with us about GroundBreak.

TONYA ALLEN: Great, thank you so much, Nina. Have a wonderful day.

NINA MOINI: You, too.

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