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Diversifying California’s Small Developer Corps

BIPOC workers are key to building the housing that we need

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Diversifying California’s Small Developer Corps - BIPOC workers are key to building the housing that we need.

By: Devani Santos 

Build It Green (BIG) believes that every Californian deserves to live in a safe, affordable home in a resilient and thriving neighborhood. The organization is putting a new focus on California’s small developer and contractor community to connect people there with resources and mentorship.


What most know about California’s housing market is that the industry simply isn’t building enough new homes. The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) determined that the state needs 1.8 million new homes by 2025 to meet projected population growth. On top of that, California isn’t currently building the kinds of homes that people need most. For example, there is a massive shortage of Middle Housing or two to four unit construction and townhomes.


At the same time, there is a construction workforce shortage with fewer people entering the industry. According to the National Association of Home Builders, in 2016, only three percent of 18-25 year old Americans planned to work in the construction trades, while six percent of all employment was in construction. Recent statistics show a great need to double California’s construction workforce, and quickly. 


If California is to close the housing gap with the existing workforce, then training and mentoring small developers and contractors is paramount. BIG is specifically targeting Black, Asian and Latino workers in the Bay Area, Central Valley, and the SoCal region to develop in their own neighborhoods. Small developers and contractors focus on projects that are smaller than ten units or infill lots up to twenty units – exactly the type of housing that communities need most.


BIG is prioritizing BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) workers in particular because California’s housing crisis reflects their lack of representation in the housing developer industry. It is a reminder of the urgent need to bring more diverse people and voices to the table.


According to BIG’s partners at the Woodsong Team, “Women, Black folks, and Asian folks are the

most underrepresented demographics in the construction industry.”


This lack of representation is a systemic problem with diverse builders not having access to capital or the support they need to become developers even though they know most about their communities' needs.  

BIG approaches this work with a regenerative mindset, which is a holistic effort to understand all aspects of a home and community, including the people, natural environment, public and personal health, and more. 

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The first step forward is to create and host a Small Developer Bootcamp for which potential developers and contractors from across California will be brought together in the same room. The Bootcamp will be a two-day event designed to increase participant capacity by identifying the skills and resources they need to advance in their careers. It will also build support for participants by informing key community stakeholders how to engage emerging small developers. 


Those skills have been identified as “Technical Capacity, Access to Capital, Relationships, and Access to Labor,” by one of BIG’s partners, Aaron Clay, Director of – a minority owned, full service consultant  providing building improvements for tenants.“The establishment of impactful partnerships and access to key decision-makers in the real estate development ecosystem should be a primary goal in order to drive sustainable, equitable change.” 


The Bootcamp will recruit BIPOC pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship program alumni, as well as current contractors and builders hoping to enter the developer space. Recruitment will be done through social media, in-person happy hours, and culturally relevant spaces like churches, community centers, and community colleges. BIG is also looking for people at title companies, mortgage brokerages, real estate agencies, and construction supply houses, as well as insurance brokers, bookkeepers, recent retirees, school teachers, government employees, and engineers. 


The bootcamp will cover the various elements needed for small development which include financing, project management, city planning, architecture and design, construction, trades, and a broad range of real estate industry topics. The goal is to provide a larger context of development, with educational opportunities and support for folks who want to take the leap. 


In later phases, the bootcamp will engage business, legal, building code professionals, city planners, and local officials. BIG is also seeking finance folks in community banks, CDFI funds, and mission-driven venture capitalists who can offer loans to smaller housing development companies. BIG will invite finance professionals to be project partners or investors, and to participate in interviews, and focus groups. Their input will be essential in creating assessments and gathering resources. 


A wide range of people stand to benefit from this work, including small for-profit developers, low and mixed income cooperatives, property owners, and community based organizations. In addition, existing contractors could benefit from this work too, including home improvement contractors primarily focused on remodels or retrofit work, prime contractors focused on building homes from the ground up, and trade contractors wanting to become prime construction builders. 


While BIG refines their strategy, one overall goal is to create a foundational network to provide project participants the opportunity to connect with fellow emerging developers and to access the community connections and resources they need in workforce development, financing, and more. This growing network of BIPOC builders and women in the construction trades will help them compete in a white male dominated industry, and to support them as they grow into community leaders.

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Now, more than ever, California needs to increase the small developer and contractor workforce. Not only will this address the significant labor shortage, but it will also begin the process of reinvestment by supporting community control of development.


Training and mentoring BIPOC and women workers who have been historically disenfranchised is the best and most equitable path forward. These workers already know what’s best for their communities. Equipped with the skills and support they need, they can transform their homes and neighborhoods. Let’s help them build the future they want. 


For that reason, everyone in the builder and housing industry should consider finding their developers and contractors in diverse communities. To learn more about the small developer initiative and to connect, contact

About Build It Green

Build It Green, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Oakland, CA, built its reputation on bringing residential green building practices into the mainstream with credible, accessible resources. Most notably, the GreenPoint Rated home certification program. Today, BIG convenes changemakers, incubates ideas, and aims to build resources and connections to transform the California housing system via a regenerative framework. Devani Santos leads BIG’s initiative to build, support, and mentor the small developers workforce.

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