Jeff Brown has been remodeling and selling homes in Cleveland and surrounding suburbs for more than a decade. But until recently, he was using credit cards and his own money to fix up houses one at a time because he couldn’t get a line of credit from a bank.
“I’m a hustler … an entrepreneur, I should say,” said Brown, a gregarious talker who is also host of the Jeff Brown Show, a local syndicated podcast. “I was using hard money previously, but that was a high-interest loan and you only have 8-12 months to pay it back or you could pay a higher interest rate or lose the property.”
That changed when Brown found Contractors on the Rise (COR), a new program of Village Capital Corporation, a subsidiary of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP). The new program supports minority entrepreneurs like Brown with a $100,000 to $200,000 line of credit to fix up homes in Cleveland. He recently sold his first home through the program, a three bedroom, two-and-a-half bath house in Slavic Village that he transformed from an empty eyesore into a neighborhood showpiece.
“It’s a good opportunity to find a way to help rebuild the city,” said Brown of COR. “It’s really geared towards helping the minority business owner. It helps us build integrity and profitability – the whole nine.”
According to Kwame Botchway, Community Capital and Impact Manager with VCC, the program’s goals are to work with minority contractors to fix up blighted properties, create homeownership opportunities for Cleveland residents, and revitalize neighborhoods. The program provides additional wrap-around business support and technical capacity-building support to help these businesses grow.
“Racial equity begins at home,” said Botchway, citing the historic lack of diversity in the organization’s lending portfolio. “How do we make sure we build a pipeline of minority contractors to make sure they’re represented in the real estate space?”
Botchway moved from Ghana to the US in 2017 to pursue a master’s degree at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. He worked on designing Contractors on the Rise during his internship at VCC and as part of his master’s thesis at CWRU before becoming its first manager. COR is funded by VCC with additional support coming from Chase.
Since COR launched a year ago, it has signed on 9 minority contractors to participate in its first cohort, each receiving $100,000 to $200,000 in financing. Although two dropped out for various reasons, seven have gone on to purchase and remodel their first homes using a line of credit from VCC. So far, COR has focused on the Slavic Village, Glenville, Buckeye-Shaker, Collinwood and Cudell neighborhoods in the city of Cleveland.
One of the most surprising aspects of the program, said Botchway, is how the contractors have collaborated. “They’ve all made significant progress by working together,” he said. “They have anywhere from two to 15 years of experience, so it’s an intergenerational cohort.”
All of the COR contractors receive financial coaching and wraparound support during the program, including help identifying houses that would be good candidates for rehab. Ultimately, one goal of the program is to help restore home values in Cleveland’s historically disinvested neighborhoods. The home that Brown renovated in Slavic Village sold for $153,000, one of the area’s highest recent sales.
Botchway he hopes to help contractors expand their capacity over time. One of the challenges with the program is finding high-quality homes in good condition. He expects the program will expand to additional city neighborhoods as it grows and assist more minority and women contractors.
In the meantime, the COR program is slowly achieving its goal of nurturing homegrown talent like Brown. “I’m now purchasing my second home in Buckeye-Shaker, and I’m getting an increase in my line of credit from COR to meet that expectation of excellence we want,” he said. “I could pick up two properties with my next deal.”
To learn more about the COR program, contact Kwame Botchway at [email protected]. Cleveland Neighborhood Progress is an underwriter of The Land, providing support for stories about community development in Cleveland’s neighborhoods.
Lee Chilcote is editor of The Land.