The Community Engineer
Brian K. Rice has been featured across the U.S. and the world for his stance against systemic discrimination in banking, modern-day redlining, municipal disinvestment, and systemic barriers to wealth and inequality in Black communities.
Brookings: The devaluation of assets in Black neighborhoods: The case of commercial property; Jonathan Rothwell, Tracy Hadden Loh, and Andre M. Perry July 11, 2022; In 2019, a Black real estate developer named Brian Rice tried to get a loan to renovate some buildings he purchased on a neighborhood commercial corridor in the majorityBlack Ensley neighborhood of Birmingham, Ala. His vision was to turn these vacant buildings into small businesses, offices for nonprofits, and a conference center. But the bank’s appraisers said that his properties were basically , leaving Rice with a large gap between the value he believed could be realized with investment and the value given to him.. The devaluation of assets in Black neighborhoods: The case of commercial property | Brookings https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-devaluation-of-assets-in-black-neighborhoods-the-case-of-commercial-property/ 2/6 What explains this gap? It’s possible that Rice was overly confident in the prospects of earning revenue from these developments. But it’s also possible that the properties were devalued because of who was living near them. Either way, the fiscal consequences for Black neighborhoods are severe. The commercial real estate (CRE) market is relatively small compared to housing. However, because individual CRE assets are large and more valuable per square foot, their health can have an outsized influence on the well-being of a community. In new research (https://www.brookings.edu/wpcontent/uploads/2022/07/Devaluation-of-Assets-in-Black-Neighborhoods.pdf) , we test whether commercial real estate is valued differently depending on the Black share of population living in the area and compare these dynamics to residential real estate markets. We find that in majority-Black ZIP codes, devaluation results in aggregate wealth losses of $235 billion for residential real estate and $171 billion for retail real estate. By contrast, we do not find any evidence of devaluation for office space. In real estate,both location and race matter In order to isolate the impact of race, we built a national dataset of predictors of commercial real estate value to investigate how local characteristics (measured at the ZIP code level) predict CRE asking rents, with a focus on the racial composition of neighborhoods as a potential source of market inefficiency, which has not previously been studied. We found that location characteristics play a huge role in determining CRE value. If one ranks ZIP codes by the aggregate value of each real estate product type, the top 1% are home to 36% of office value, 11% of retail value, but only 9% of the value of owneroccupied homes. However, we also find that race matters. After accounting for other predictors of CRE value, we estimate that retail space is undervalued by 7% in majority-Black ZIP codes. Yet, office space is only devalued by 1%, and the estimates are not statistically significant. Given the importance of tenant revenue in setting commercial rents, the 11/10/23, 6:50 AM The devaluation of assets in Black neighborhoods: The case of commercial property | Brookings https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-devaluation-of-assets-in-black-neighborhoods-the-case-of-commercial-property/ 3/6 difference between retail space and office space suggests that consumer behavior— which is less important for office than retail space—is playing a large role in limiting the value of real estate in Black neighborhoods. Consequences for Black people and communities The commercial real estate market is highly unequal. Our analysis of data from the shows that the top 1% of households that own CRE control 81% of that category’s value. By contrast, the top 1% of households that own nonprimary residential property control 49% of that category’s value. Owneroccupied housing wealth is the most equal, with the top 1% owning 16% of the value. The generally unequal structure of commercial real estate is also seen in the wide racial disparities in real property asset ownership: 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances Only 3% of Black households own nonresidential commercial real estate, compared to 8% of white households. For households that do own commercial real estate, the average white household owns $34,000 in it, compared to just $3,600 for the average Black household. 11/10/23, 6:50 AM The devaluation of assets in Black neighborhoods: The case of commercial property | Brookings https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-devaluation-of-assets-in-black-neighborhoods-the-case-of-commercial-property/ 4/6 The work of the Urban Markets Initiative (https://www.brookings.edu/wpcontent/uploads/2016/06/framingpaper.pdf) at Brookings has articulated sources of market information gaps and mechanisms linking these gaps to barriers to and distortions of market activity, such as consumption, site location decisions, and lending. For example, retail stores will see depressed revenue if non-Black people are discouraged from going there because of its location in a Black neighborhood, and owners of professional businesses may prefer to locate their office in non-Black neighborhoods as a signal to potential employees, who suffer from the same ignorance and bias as retail consumers. These information gaps—and the subsequent huge distortions in the size of the markets that home sellers and retailers in Black neighborhoods have access to—are a primary cause of devaluation. Commercial real estate devaluation mirrors other forms of Black neighborhood devaluation—and its impacts extend beyond just those neighborhoods Black wealth disproportionately relies on housing: The share of national wealth Black people own is three times higher for owner-occupied real estate (6%) as it is for nonresidential commercial real estate (2%). 11/10/23, 6:50 AM The devaluation of assets in Black neighborhoods: The case of commercial property | Brookings https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-devaluation-of-assets-in-black-neighborhoods-the-case-of-commercial-property/ 5/6 We believe the devaluation of commercial real estate in Black neighborhoods is consistent with a general pattern of devaluation of Black people living in these neighborhoods, which has deep roots in U.S. history. In a series of papers, we have documented that residential housing (https://www.brookings.edu/research/devaluation-of-assets-in-black-neighborhoods/) , small businesses (https://www.brookings.edu/research/five-star-reviews-one-starprofits-the-devaluation-of-businesses-in-black-communities/) , and now commercial properties in Black-majority areas realize lower market potential than similar properties or businesses located in non-Black areas. Devaluation may operate through private decisions, such as discrimination against individual Black owners, but it may also operate at the neighborhood level, which is not relevant to traditional civil rights legislation. Since most commercial real estate is not owned by Black people, discrimination at the individual level is an unlikely explanation for the disparities we observe. Neighborhood-level devaluation hurts consumers of all races, even when it occurs through race-neutral channels. For example, at least some part of the observed devaluation may be due to asymmetries in information, leading to market inefficiency. In other words, many potential buyers may be unaware that a home or commercial property in a Black neighborhood offers the space they need at a competitive price because they do not live in majority-Black neighborhoods, rarely visit such neighborhoods, and are not socially connected to residents or visitors there. For similar reasons, they may be unaware that a valuable meal could be had at a Blackowned restaurant in a Black neighborhood. As a result, these potential buyers may pay an artificial premium in a majority-white neighborhood. As Sheryll Cashin , “Separation is pricey.” Another theory is that devaluation could operate through anti-Black stereotypes or other psychological mechanisms consistent with racial discrimination but not necessarily identical to discrimination directed against individuals. Potential buyers of any race may hold exaggerated fears or anxiety associated with Black neighborhoods or regard those spaces as culturally distant. We aim to clarify which of these channels matters most in future research. Any amount of devaluation has real consequences for Black neighborhoods. In addition to the direct loss of access to the billions of dollars in residential capital has argued 11/10/23, 6:50 AM The devaluation of assets in Black neighborhoods: The case of commercial property | Brookings https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-devaluation-of-assets-in-black-neighborhoods-the-case-of-commercial-property/ 6/6 estimated in this analysis, a systematic negative differential in valuation of Black neighborhood real estate deflates the size of the tax base the community has to support infrastructure and services and renders these communities vulnerable to speculation. Since devaluation reduces the carrying costs of real estate, it can be exploited by investors with greater access to capital who can buy low and sell high, perhaps anticipating future racial demographic change in the area. There is a connecting thread between the racial inequity created by the wealth extraction from African Americans during slavery and the findings in this report. The connection goes beyond the mere existence of racial bias—it is a legal, economic, and moral framework that undermines Black people through the real property system. A system that enabled liberty would function differently. What comes next must be to imagine that system.
Listen to Brian's story with one of the largest International News Agencies in the World with BBC WORLD NEWS
The frustration of trying to invest in my hometown. Brian Rice says the banking system is stacked against people like him By Ivana Davidovic Business reporter, BBC News After years of working in states across the US, engineer and entrepreneur Brian Rice decided he wanted to invest in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. He had enough cash to buy eight buildings, all around 100 years old, in his majority black neighbourhood of Ensley, but he needed a banking loan to redevelop them. He thought it would be just a formality. What he discovered was a system stacked against people like him. "I thought it was the worst appraisal in the United States," he says, recalling the moment he opened the valuation the bank had given him for his properties and read its justification. ADVERTISEMENT "They compared my eight historic properties to farmland 14 or so miles away, and they compared my buildings to an abandoned car wash. Nothing about my properties resembles those." Ensley building (not owned by Brian Rice) IMAGE SOURCE,BRIAN RICE Image caption, Mr Rice believes Ensley being a black area was the main factor in not getting funding World Business Report: Banks valuing historic buildings as farmland in black communities Five of his properties were in a decent state of repair and some had sitting tenants, while three needed a complete refurbishment. He had grand plans to build apartments and restaurants, as well as exhibition spaces for local artists and incubator hubs for fledgling businesses. He wanted to make money, while supporting his neighbours and their aspirations. By the time he received the bank's letter, he had already faced three months of stress and delays. He had approached half a dozen banks, confident that with his track record and "solid credit score", he could secure the financing within four to six weeks. It didn't happen and Mr Rice believes the fact that Ensley is a black neighbourhood was the main factor, especially after being asked questions about the "demographics of Ensley". One bank finally sent someone on location to assess his properties 12 weeks later. They valued the buildings at zero dollars and just over a dollar per square foot for the land only. As the rules for most banks say a property must be valued at a minimum of $50,000 (£39,000) to get a line of credit against it, his case was shut. Brian Rice looking at empty buildings IMAGE SOURCE,BRIAN RICE Image caption, Brian Rice: "This shouldn't happen to the next person" During that process, he talked to other investors and friends in a similar position and realised his case was far from unique. "It's one thing to do this with one building," he says, "if it is small and falling apart. It's another thing to do it with eight buildings with sitting tenants. So I said, 'It's my time to speak up and stand up.' This shouldn't happen to the next person." Birmingham was one of the most segregated cities in the US, leading Martin Luther King to launch "Project C" in 1963, which was one of the most influential campaigns of the civil rights movement. After a series of marches, sit-ins and arrests, Birmingham shops and businesses finally agreed to desegregate all restrooms, lunch counters, fitting rooms and drinking fountains and to hire more black workers. But Mr Rice believes that for black residents, segregation, albeit of a different kind, is still very much a part of their lives. "The reality is that African Americans have always been locked out of the access to capital from banks. In a lot of cases, they don't own the buildings in their communities or they just have dilapidated ones that they can't move forward with. It is pure frustration." Andre Perry IMAGE SOURCE,KATE GOWMAN/MOTORCITYKATE.COM Image caption, Properties in black areas are priced 23% lower than in white areas, says Andre Perry And the data corroborates his real-life experience. The Brookings Institution's Andre Perry is from the black neighbourhood of Wilkinsburg, Pittsburgh. He poured years of research into his new book, Know Your Price - Valuing Black Lives and Property in America's Black Cities. Properties in black neighbourhoods are priced 23% lower than their equivalents in white areas, an average of $48,000 per home, he says. That amounts to about $156bn in lost equity "simply because of the concentration of black people around it, not because of education, crime, housing quality or demand. It's literally robbing people of the ability to lift themselves up". Last year, Mr Perry testified before the US House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services looking into racist lending practices and he is calling for the reform of how valuations are done in the US. For their part, many banks say black lives do matter. JP Morgan Chase, the largest bank in the US, launched its Advancing Black Pathways programme just over a year ago. Programme head Sekou Kaalund says the goal is to "ensure that we have as many of the 2.6 million black businesses in this country ready to receive capital and thrive". JP Morgan logo IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES Image caption, Sekou Kaalund of JP Morgan Chase says that a systemic change is needed if things are to improve However, these lofty ideals are yet to transform the banking landscape. For example, in Chicago, for every dollar banks loaned in the city's white neighbourhoods in 2012-18, they invested just 12 cents in black neighbourhoods. And JP Morgan Chase lent 41 times more money in white areas than in black ones. Mr Kaalund recognises these results as "disappointing", but stresses that a systemic change is needed if things are to improve for black entrepreneurs and prospective and current homeowners. He says his bank's Entrepreneurs of Colour Fund highlighted that these borrowers would not have been able to get a loan from any bank. "Your models would have said these borrowers wouldn't have paid you back. They don't have the collateral." He thinks there is an opportunity to evaluate how lending risk is assessed, but there are challenges. "When the Federal Reserve examiners come in, and you are making loans that are deemed lower credit quality, then the amount of capital you need increases. So it's not just one lever and that's the banks. It's going to be the system." Netflix's headquarters located on Sunset Blvd. on April 20, 2020 in Hollywood, California IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES Image caption, Netflix will shift $100m of its cash into financial institutions that focus on black communities Some say investing in black-owned banks is one solution to this problem of undervaluing black assets and access to funding. Streaming giant Netflix has recently said it will put 2% of its cash (about $100m) into black-owned financial institutions. Netflix bosses cited the book, The Colour of Money, Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap as the inspiration for this. Yet its author, banking law professor Mehrsa Baradaran, is not so sure that black banks can by themselves right historical wrongs. "Repeatedly, we've used these soft and anaemic solutions to these massive problems. If you combined assets of all the black banks - and it's only 20 black banks in this country - that's a bad weekend for Citibank," she says. In 1863, when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, black Americans owned less than 1% of US total wealth. Nearly 160 years later, this number has barely budged. Mehrsa Baradaran IMAGE SOURCE,MEHRSA BARADARAN Image caption, Financial reparations to African American communities are key, argues Prof Baradaran Prof Baradaran says one key part of solving this is financial reparations, which would put black people in the place where they would have been, were it not for racially discriminatory laws over hundreds of years. She also wants lawmakers to consider something like a public banking system - akin to those in Europe or China - in areas which might not be profitable in the current system dominated by a handful of banking giants. While financial institutions and academics are trying to find ways of addressing racial economic inequality, in Birmingham, Brian Rice is still without funding for his development project. His voice breaks as he talks about friends who support him and why he still keeps knocking on doors, looking for funding. "The greatest challenge for African Americans is access to resources. If unfair banking is removed from my story, all of my eight historic buildings would be renovated and there would be thriving businesses in them that improve the community. "It's really operating from hope, dreams and that no give up spirit right now." Around the BBC BBC World Service - World Business Report
Get your copy today of "Inclusive Systemic Economic Injustice: Corruption, Exclusion & Oppression in My Hometown" on Amazon (click here). I had no idea how hard it was to truly invest in Black communities and specifically commercial areas. The decked was stacked banking, appraisal, and government systemic barriers. In this book I share the federal laws others can use across the U.S. to fight their property rights. I also break down 40+ years of Black small business discrimination led by Black public leaders while I also break down 124 years of redlining in a typical underserved black neighborhood. We can't keep blaming the system, we must find the specific acts that are taking our rights away and we must do what we can in our legal ability to remove those barriers to help the current and next generation.. Get your copy today on Amazon, click here.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — WVTM 13's Eunice Elliott introduces you to Brian Rice, a community engineer who's helping to revitalize a historic area of Ensley. Learn more in the video on WVTM 13 at https://www.wvtm13.com/article/community-champion-the-community-engineer/30302578#
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Brian K. Rice was alarmed. He says some fellow business owners in downtown Ensley were telling him they’d received property valuation notices from Jefferson County that had gone up steeply, in some cases hundreds of percentage points, equaling thousands of dollars in property tax. He says he held an emergency meeting on a recent Saturday to talk with property owners about the importance of protesting the valuations before the July 28 deadline. Rice says his review of property sales in the area indicated to him that the most dramatic jumps in values were clustered like his around the Ramsay-McCormack Building that the city of Birmingham demolished in preparation as part of a long-awaited redevelopment effort. “That means you’ve gotten used to paying your taxes for 10, 20 or 15 years at a thousand dollars,” says Rice. “And then all of a sudden it jumps in two years, $2,000 and then $5,000. And then you’re like, what’s going on?” What’s going on is the effect of Jefferson County’s mass appraisal process at work in a hot real estate market according to the county’s Chief Appraisal Manager, David Ogden. “We study all the sales of the particular valuation zone,” says Ogden. “Based upon those valuation zones, we are required by state law to be within a median of 98 to 102 of the sale price value for that group of sales within that particular valuation zone.” Maria Knight chairs Jefferson County’s Board of Equalization which sets property values across the county. “The code of Alabama requires us to send out valuation notices, anytime the value increases year over year,” says Knight, who says notices also go out to owners whose property boundaries have changed. Knight says about three thousand property owners have filed to protest their valuations, which is slightly less than normal. Earlier this year, the Board of Equalization started sending letters instead of the familiar yellow 3x5 cards to notify owners of the valuation changes. To those who would hope for more precision in the process, Knight says at this point it is still the most efficient way to cover the county’s 799 neighborhoods. “One thing to keep in mind is that we have over 320,000 parcels in Jefferson County,” says Knight. “So unfortunately, we don’t get a chance to view them as often as we would like to nor do we get a chance to have interior access the majority of the time. So the taxpayer can always send us documentation throughout the year. It won’t affect that year’s tax bill, but it’s something that we can analyze for the next year.” Knight says a number of areas in the county saw increases similar to those in Ensley, including parts of Homewood, Vestavia Hills, and Mountain Brook as well as Birmingham’s Crestwood neighborhood and the rapidly changing area along the Rotary Trail on the eastern edge of downtown. Knight explains because property taxes are paid in arrears, the valuations property owners just got - and may be challenging - are for the period from October of 2019 to September of 2020. So, she says, the demolition of Ramsay-McCormack in April did not figure into the valuations property owners just received. Back in Ensley, Rice remains frustrated that property values can rise dramatically in what seems like a random manner in a community that has struggled for decades to attract development. “If I look at the conditions of the buildings, many of them have never changed in the last 20 or 30 years,” says Rice. “And so we shouldn’t see one or two randomly jumping up 500%, two or three jumping up 400% in taxes…and then next door, we have 5% increase and 10% increase. Whatever it should be, it should be fair.” Copyright 2021 WBRC. All rights reserved. (picture attached) The Ramsay-McCormack Building in Ensley before it was demolished. By Steve Crocker Published: Aug. 13, 2021 at 8:50 PM CDT
Developer Brian Rice helping Ensley’s renaissance interviewed by: Art Franklin CBS 42: The once vibrant downtown Ensley business district is now a mere shell of its former self. But on many of the blighted buildings, you can see that the pride is still alive with messages like, I am Ensley. And lately, a young developer named Brian K. Rice has started breathing new life, along 19th street, one building at a time. Buying up blighted properties in downtown Ensley, Brian Rice has become a neighborhood crusader of sorts. “I always knew I was going to come back to Birmingham and give back to my community.” according to Rice. The engineer and real estate developer returned to Birmingham after living for years in Charlotte, Houston, and Milwaukee. Now Rice owns a three-story structure and seven other buildings he purchased last year. He says, “I believe this whole district can grow but it’s going to take some love, its gonna take some sacrifice but most importantly it’s going to take some resources“ Rice says his tenants have to share his community mindset. He adds, “I can also challenge people who lease space from me, can you mentor once a month because we need somebody to see an architect at work.” Rice says right now the biggest challenge is securing business loans or finding investors. He’s hopeful others will come forward to make it easier for developers like him to help the Ensley business district reach its full potential, and once again thrive. Posted: Jul 22, 2019 / 02:38 PM CDT Updated: Jul 22, 2019 / 02:38 PM CDT https://www.cbs42.com/news/developer-brian-rice-helping-ensleys-renaissance/
VoyageATL Today we’d like to introduce you to Brian K Rice. Brian K, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today. I’ve always dreamed of moving back to my hometown of Birmingham, AL after living in several cities and states to help restore the under served community I am from. When I would visit Birmingham around 2008 while living in Charlotte, I would literally cry driving through and seeing so many distressed homes and neighborhoods. I could never shake this pain so I spent the next year, 12 to 14 hours a day writing comprehensive development plans from in a coffee shop that would address community economic development, youth & adult education development, crime prevention, and overall community development plans and exactly a decade plus later, I never lost my dreams. My fight for community development just recently went viral through international news with BBC World News out of London, UK. People in other countries have been reaching out to see if they can help and that is super inspiring. I have not found resources for all 8 buildings but there is progress. The first part of the vision is to build up a stronger economy with the block of 8 commercial buildings I purchased. I will then use the profits to create the entrepreneurship, workforce and character development programs i believe the community need in phase 1. Has it been a smooth road? My story in Birmingham, AL has become the face of unfair lending in Black communities across the United States. BBC World News heard my cry for help over 4000 miles away in London. You can see a link to story on my personal website or directly from the attached link https://www.bbc.com/news/business-53473239?fbclid=IwAR1zro9Edo0ifC4cWQeT7CYvGc31gqlh3fi6JoxI6gtg1ETnAKJ0dGcdONs “I bought 8 Historic Commercial buildings and I know this area is ripe for gentrification and I want people in the community to benefit from future developments. I went to a local lending institution and they rejected me because the area is poor and marginalized. The reason there isn’t enough capital in the community is because the lending institutions will not finance anyone who own properties in the community. Secondly, I know the appraisal I received, no real estate professional can understand why it exist to compare my 8 commercial buildings to farm land unless they were intentionally trying to lower the value of my property where they appraised my 8 buildings at $0 and only gave me $1.02 sf for the land. Third, I love helping people and I was not asking anyone to contribute or donate anything to me, I was trying to obtain a loan that was going to help the bank and help me. I was not asking for a handout. The City of Birmingham that talks about revitalization and putting wealth back into the community are giving business owners and developers from outside of the community money to revitalize the area and not with people who own businesses inside the community that would not only add wealth to my business but all the business owners around me. I think it is critical that people know that “the greatest challenge for African Americans to develop their communities is access to resources. We have to create bridges for a better tomorrow that didn’t exist when we arrived. If unfair banking is removed from my story, all 8 historic buildings would be renovated and there would be thriving businesses in them that improve the community. I need people to know that I and others need help from the outside that can contribute until equality is equal. It has been a 2 year journey and I still need others to help me in the form of donations or as an investor who partners on the vision to move this community forward. We can restore our communities.” We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know? I am currently recruiting others to help me develop the 8 buildings by giving or investing in this community to help create needed restaurants, private & shared office spaces and host of needed businesses that build up this community. For me it is important to bring positive creative energy here and that is why I am dedicating at least one building to the arts. It’s important for me know that area artists have spaces to develop, create and exhibit. It is also important that we have spaces dedicated to videography, photography, podcasting and others. One key vision is launching a space that will be dedicated to women entrepreneurs that will be led by women. I can’t share my grand idea for the men yet but I’m excited to know that my story is reaching others and maybe others from the area or outside the city will help me complete all 8 buildings on the block. We have to create a thriving environment for entrepreneurs as well as an environment where the next generation can see success in their community. We are our greatest investment. I’m fighting for my community and I need you to help me fight. I’m super proud of my Birmingham neighbors who don’t have much but they drop off lunch and donations unannounced to help me keep going because they know the unfair obstacles I have faced and they believe in me. This encourages me like no other to keep moving forward. I’m glad I never lost my dream. I’m so close to the first finished block. Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least? For me living in Birmingham, Atlanta is our future. Atlanta is the place for ideas. Atlanta has lessons that I can learn from as I move forward in Birmingham. Contact Info: Website: www.briankrice.com Email: email@example.com Instagram: MrBrianKRice Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheCommunityEngineer/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/briankrice Image Credit: All images are of Brian K. Rice on the block of commercial buildings he owns. 1 Picture shows Brian looking in an abandoned building as he is trying to decide the next building to invest in.
Revitalizing Ensley BY NICK PATTERSON MAY 24, 2021 4:39 PM; Community members hope big projects, new initiatives bring some glory back 1 of 4 Expand INK-COVER-Ensley-Revitalization-EN001.jpgPhoto by Erin Nelson. George McCall, a neighborhood association president in Ensley, stands outside of the Ensley Recreation Center. 2 of 4 Expand INK-COVER-Ensley-CA-COmmunityHeart.jpgRenderings courtesy of Zimmerman Properties. Zimmerman Properties has significant plans to transform the former Ensley High School site into a set of apartments scaled to complement the existing houses in the neighborhood, as shown in these early renderings. The plans include tree-lined streetscapes, sidewalks, and a linear park. 3 of 4 Expand INK-COVER-Ensley-CA-EnsleyAerial.jpgRenderings courtesy of Zimmerman Properties. Zimmerman Properties has significant plans to transform the former Ensley High School site into a set of apartments scaled to complement the existing houses in the neighborhood, as shown in these early renderings. The plans include tree-lined streetscapes, sidewalks, and a linear park. 4 of 4 Expand INK-COVER-Ensley-CA-EnsleyPark.jpgRenderings courtesy of Zimmerman Properties. Zimmerman Properties has significant plans to transform the former Ensley High School site into a set of apartments scaled to complement the existing houses in the neighborhood, as shown in these early renderings. The plans include tree-lined streetscapes, sidewalks, and a linear park. PrevNext INK-COVER-Ensley-Revitalization-EN001.jpg INK-COVER-Ensley-CA-COmmunityHeart.jpg INK-COVER-Ensley-CA-EnsleyAerial.jpg INK-COVER-Ensley-CA-EnsleyPark.jpg George McCall, president of the Ensley Neighborhood Association, has seen it all in his community. “I’m a retired letter carrier. I carried mail out here for 42 years in Ensley,” he said. “I’ve been to every doorstop in Ensley,” not to mention surrounding communities. McCall has seen Ensley rise and fall. He’s seen the community in western Birmingham go from segregated to a nearly all-black population. He’s seen the neighborhood’s economic fortunes decline with the departure of the U.S. Steel plant decades ago — and many other businesses since. And he’s seen hopes for Ensley’s resurgence have to be tempered. Case in point: McCall was one of many who had high hopes for a while that the tallest structure in the community, the 10-story Ramsay-McCormack building, would be restored to its former glory. That specific hope ended in March with the last of the Ramsay-McCormack building being brought down into a pile of rubble. But that demolition was to make way for something new. And so even now, hopes adjusted, McCall, like many in Ensley, is optimistic. “We have hope that what happens is something that will make Ensley a better neighborhood and a better community, and maybe one day, come back to what it once was in past years,” McCall said. “We have that hope and belief that Ensley is going to come back.” A good bit of his optimism is centered on a particular project, one which will see the site of the former Ensley High School transformed into a carefully-designed new development of 244 apartments, with a fresh food grocery in the old high school gym, a clubhouse and other amenities, including greenspace in a courtyard and a linear park. Site plans also show 15,000 square feet of commercial space in the 10-acre site. Demolition of the old school, which burned in 2018, is expected this summer, with construction on the new development slated to begin in late 2022, according to developer Zimmerman Properties. McCall said developments like the one planned at the EHS site may be the shot in the arm Ensley needs. “You see the plans that they have for the new development. If you [aren’t] prejudiced, it would draw your attention to come back to the area,” McCall said. “The new development is going to have everything there that anybody really wants. So, we’re looking forward to that area being developed there. And maybe the way it comes out, may draw people back to this area.” Ensley leaders, business owners and residents hope to see something good rise from the ashes of that site — as well as the former Ramsay-McCormack. And some are working actively to strengthen the business community with the end goal of seeing Ensley hit its stride again. Expand INK-COVER-Ensley-Revitalization-EN03.jpgPhoto by Erin Nelson. Brian K. Rice, developer, Ensley advocate, mechanical engineer, business development manager, author and head of the Ensley Business Alliance, stands in the renovated event space in the former Belle Theatre on 19th Street Ensley. Ensley — better days behind — and ahead Located today in the western section of Birmingham, Ensley was originally a company town, named after Enoch Ensley, who founded it in the late 1880s around the iron and steel foundry he owned. Eventually, Ensley’s company became the Tennessee Coal Iron & Railroad company, and even later became part of U.S. Steel. Meanwhile, for decades, industry became the economic engine of the growing community. By 1900, Ensley had a city hall. By 1910, Ensley had an estimated population of 20,000 to 25,000. That same year, it was annexed into Birmingham. In 1929, Erskine Ramsay and Carr McCormack erected the 10-story tower that would bear their names right in the middle of the Ensley business district where it would become an iconic landmark. Ten years later, the still-famous jazz standard “Tuxedo Junction” was written by bandleader Erskine Hawkins to immortalize the spot in Ensley where several streetcar lines intersected. The Ensley Works and the nearby Fairfield Works, both owned and operated by U.S. Steel, produced steel through World War II and for decades beyond. Songs, poems, and even movies were produced about Ensley, as noted in BhamWiki. But with the passage of time, people moved away from Ensley. The Ensley Works shut down for good in 1979. By 2010, about 6,400 people lived in the community, according to the “Ensley Community Redevelopment Market Report” compiled for the city by BLOC Global in 2012. Some recent estimates place Ensley’s population much lower. Despite population loss, vacant houses, lots and storefronts, Ensley has never really thrown in the towel. It keeps getting a second wind, manifested in several efforts to reinvigorate the community over decades. Never giving up “Numerous ‘revitalization’ efforts have been made, with marginal success,” BhamWiki notes. “The redevelopment of the Tuxedo Court Housing Project into Tuxedo Terrace and of the nearby Alabama State Fairgrounds into Fair Park in 2010, along with renewed efforts by Main Street Birmingham and business groups to bring investment to the Ensley Business District give current residents hope for improvement. Long-range plans to transform the former Ensley Works site into an industrial park would accelerate economic recovery in the area.” Over time, REV Birmingham gave support to various Ensley redevelopment projects, including what used to be Birmingham Police West Precinct and the Western Health Center. The city has pumped money and resources into assisting several businesses that have called Ensley home for years. And there have been numerous other efforts to breathe new vitality into Ensley. For example, in 2018, BuildUP opened as a nonprofit, private high school focused around workforce development. BuildUP has garnered national attention and will be graduating its first class by the time this issue sees print. “Launched in 2018, Build UP is a program for youth from low-income families in Birmingham that sees its students through their high school diploma and associate’s degree, while training them for careers in construction and real estate with paid apprenticeships through partnering businesses in the community,” CNN noted in a March 2021 story. “The students combine academic learning with hands-on experience, renovating and rehabbing homes in neighborhoods like Ensley, where the school is based.” Brian K. Rice, an engineer and business owner, said he’s glad to see any progress in Ensley. For instance, the new building to be built on the Ramsay-McCormack site is welcome news, he said. “We do look forward to progress and we do look forward to the new building going up,” he said, noting that the new structure, at five stories and 30,000 square feet, is expected to be 18 feet shorter than Ramsay-McCormack when it is built in 2022. “So that will mean a lot to the community once it’s complete,” Rice said. The city has big dreams for the new building. “The redevelopment of the Ramsay-McCormack site will be a beacon for the Ensley neighborhood, much like its predecessor building. This project coupled with the Woodfin administration’s additional revitalization strategy will support new and exciting opportunities,” said Irvin Henderson, a principal of Ensley District Developers (EDD), in a city web posting from October 2020. “These actions will support new and existing businesses. The enthusiasm and consumer interest will bring customers to the businesses and increase the traffic of the area, which will support a healthy climate for entrepreneurism and encourage positive investment. This is the formula for revitalization.” On the other hand, Rice also sees issues even with favorable projects. For example, he said that since Ramsay-McCormack was brought down — his eight properties are in the next block over — he’s been coughing, and his eyes have been burning. And now he wonders if he and others in downtown Ensley are breathing something toxic. He’s pressed federal and state officials to test the air. “We have a lot of people with pre-existing conditions in the community. They need to make sure they are protected,” Rice said. Ensley High Rice also praised aspects of the Ensley High School project, which will redevelop a large piece of property between Avenue J and Avenue L, and 22nd and 24th Streets — but with caveats. “They’re bringing in Zimmerman Properties to redevelop that site to put 244 subsidized housing units in that location,” Rice said. “They are beautiful, the renderings are beautiful. So I’ll be honest about that. The renderings look great. “For some of them, I’m going to call them cottage houses, where they may have a garage on the first level or your apartment or units are right above. Then some of them are your traditional multi-family housing. So it’s beautiful.” But he raised concerns about building the new complex adjacent to the recently redeveloped Hope Six project called Tuxedo Court. He worries that the developments will create zones of concentrated poverty, he said. “So you have the Hope Six development which is only a few blocks away from Ensley High School, which was originally a housing complex, government housing. So they redeveloped that, but the majority of the tenants that are there now are still associated with … subsidized units. Now you’re putting these adjacent to that, a new 100% subsidized complex,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with the development. I just feel like that was too close to the Hope Six redevelopment.” Similar concerns were voiced by the lone Birmingham City Council member to vote against the EHS project when the city overwhelmingly approved it on April 27. “We just spent an enormous amount of money developing Tuxedo Terrace and one of the reasons why we did that when I worked for the Housing Authority was to deconcentrate poverty because there was such crime that was happening in that community and that development,” said Councilor Steven Hoyt. “Every other day somebody was getting killed or getting shot or getting something. And it was because we had just too many people in one area,” he said. “This proposal is to put the same amount of folk or units that we took out of that project back into an area that is contiguous to this development, which means that we’re going to concentrate poverty in an area that’s already experienced that,” Hoyt said. “It’s my opinion that we need more single-family detached homes there. And what the developer is proposing to do is do stack housing … that’s really not the best and highest use for that site. “Multifamily (housing), generally the persons who live there are transient. They move in and out. When you’ve got somebody who’s got a home, you’ve got an investment. They have some ownership, and it’s a little more stable than just multifamily. Just given the history of that community, the crime rate is still high in that community. We really want to promote home ownership.” Hoyt said he was “vehemently opposed” to the plan for the EHS site. But the majority of the council disagreed, with Councilor John Hilliard expressing enthusiasm for it “I’ve had a chance to view it several times with the neighborhood president there in that area, George McCall and several others out in that area,” Hilliard said. “It comes to economic development. We’ve looked at it. I think it is a beautiful project. I would like to see it happen.” During the same meeting where the council approved the project, the city also amended its capital fund budget to provide a $1.5 million grant for the EHS redevelopment to Zimmerman Properties, which will own and develop the site — purchased from the city for $50,000. The redevelopment will include apartments, the grocery, an afterschool center, a clubhouse and a parking structure in the 10 acre space. Expand INK-COVER-Ensley-CA-TabBullard3.jpg Tab Bullard Zimmerman has brought together a diverse group of corporate partners to develop the site, with a significant effort to involve community members in discussions beforehand, said Tab Bullard, who is in charge of the project. After working with city officials and partners, including David Baker Architects (DBA), the Zimmerman team made sure to connect with stakeholders in Ensley. “From then on it was really about engaging the community, hearing back from them, seeing what they liked and allowing DBA the freedom to come up with the plan that we presented to the city, that we presented to the community,” Bullard said. “All along we’ve made a commitment to the community we would be sensitive to the history and the legacy of Ensley High School, its alumni base and what that school has meant to the community over the years. That was one reason we were adamant about our construction company overseeing the GC [general contractor] aspect of it, so that we could make sure that we’re following through on the promises we made as the developers.” Ben Parker, a Birmingham native, who is consulting with Zimmerman on the EHS development, took particular note of aspects of the project designed to support local students. “We’re building an early learning center that we build and fund while we do the development so kids there from K-5 have a place when they get off the bus. They come straight to the after school learning center. They’ve got a safe place to go. But we also are in coordination with the Board of Education and their elementary schools. There’s a partnership with Star-C out of Atlanta,” Parker said. Star-C is a nonprofit 501(c)(3), which has mostly worked in Metro Atlanta to reduce transiency by collaborating with landlords to keep rents within reach of those who live in “affordable and workforce housing communities,” according to the group’s website. Star-C provides “wraparound” services — additional educational, wellness and gardening programs, the website notes. “They’ll be running that program [in Ensley], it has a focus on reducing transiency,” Parker said. “So, this isn’t just a set of apartments and buildings. There’s some community component to it that we’re very committed to. And there’s another nonprofit in Birmingham, ELI — it’s going to be heavily involved with Star-C in the wraparound services that we bring to the community and we hope that by reducing transiency in the local elementary school and providing stability for single moms that it can be a stabilizing influence in the community that is a step above. This will be Star-C’s first venture into the state of Alabama and we’re really proud that they’re part of the network.” Community support has been substantial, Parker said, and it will be important going forward with the project. “We hope we’ve done a good job involving the Ensley neighborhood, to date,” he said. “We will be back with them when we get to the architectural phase of the design to engage the community in presenting our deeper design architecture schematics. So, they have input and feedback from the community along the way. We want an ongoing partnership with the community.” Despite concerns about concentrating poverty in the complex, Parker predicted that the EHS project — from the removal of the old building to the creation of the new development — will be an economic win for the neighborhood. “We talked to the residents across the street,” Parker said. “I think from a macro standpoint, you can’t gauge the deadening effect of a 10-acre, dilapidated building in the middle of, in the heart of your community. You know, it prevents other people from buying up smaller parcels of land. We think that when we get this going that it will reactivate, revitalize these parcels of land for single-family standalone housing that might be in the landbank currently or might be in arrears on taxes. If you can take away this giant negative from the neighborhood and it’s just going to lift a tide for all boats, we hope. “I know that it’s going to present opportunities for other smaller investors to come in and improve other parcels that might otherwise have to be looking at this old building. Right now, it just adds to the negative drag of the neighborhood. I think just changing that one dynamic and if you come back, 5 years, 10 years down the road and you say what was the impact of that project — it’s going to extend for blocks. It’s not just what we do with the parcel. It has a much larger community impact, and I think that the people that stare at that building every day get that.” With such a prominent spot geographically, and historically in the community, the EHS site has potential to impact Ensley for years to come, Bullard said. “We’re hoping that it becomes a hub to the Ensley community … and it’ll create some activity and interest in investing in the Ensley community that for years has been disenfranchised and not had its fair share of investment,” Bullard said. “We hope that we’re able to deliver on that and it’ll be hope for the residents in there for a brighter Ensley future.” Rebuilding business For Ensley to have a brighter future, Rice said, it needs to have a stronger business community. Rice has struggled in Ensley. He is in an ongoing, well-publicized struggle against a low bank assessment of his properties. “The appraisers valued 43,125 square feet of land at $1.04 per square foot,” according to scholar and journalist Andre Perry of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, in his book “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities.” Rice contends that Ensley’s merchants will have to stand together to succeed. When he moved back to Ensley, he found that the Ensley Merchants Association had not been meeting consistently for years. Now, building on that, the Ensley Business Alliance is coming together to reforge their common bond, Rice said, noting that there are nearly 100 businesses operating in the community. “We must communicate together as owners — we won’t ever get 100% — and we must plan together so we can identify funding opportunities and identify who we can recruit that can be a new anchor or new business to the district,” Rice said. “Most importantly, we have to invest in each other, and build this up from a Business Alliance point of view.” Through the Alliance, Rice hopes Ensley’s merchants are “able to hyper focus on the needs of the business district … making sure we also have a plan to connect and grow our relationships with the community because the business district is the community. The business district is the neighborhood. But we’ve got to get strong,” he said. “Once we become stronger, I want people to feel like this is a resource whether they are a member or not. I want it to be a resource to say, ‘Hey, how do I do this?’ Or ‘Who do I need to connect with?’ And we are still there to connect with them because they are attached to the Ensley Business District. To me that is critical.” Tags BuildUP U.S. Steel plant Erskine Ramsay REV Birmingham George McCall Brian K. Rice Ramsay McCormack Building Ensley Ensley High School Board of Education Star-C out of Atlanta Hope Six Ensley District Developers Zimmerman Properties Ben Parker David Baker Architects Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program Tab Bullard 2021 story May by NICK PATTERSON MAY 24, 2021 4:39 PM
Infrastructure Decisions, Property Valuation, Investment and Hiring Practices Build a Gap Between Black and White Household Wealth: Solomon Crenshaw Jr., July 29, 2020Share this story: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The Declaration of Independence Brian K. Rice bought eight buildings in Birmingham’s Ensley Community and quickly ran into barriers to his plan to help revitalize the property. (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.) The founding fathers artfully crafted the phrasing that acknowledges the pursuit of happiness as one of the unalienable rights due all men. Part of that pursuit comes in one’s ability to get a job, develop a career, build wealth through an honest wage and establish a home. Many Black Americans have found that pursuit stymied by forces often beyond their control. According to an article published by The Hamilton Project of Brookings Institute, the net worth of a typical white family was $171,000 in 2016, nearly 10 times the $17,150 net worth of a Black family. The report said that gaps in wealth between Black and white households reveal the effects of accumulated inequality and discrimination, as well as differences in power and opportunity that can be traced back to this nation’s inception. The Black-white wealth gap reflects a society that has not and does not afford equality of opportunity to all its citizens, the report stated. The Brookings report said the median net worth for white households has far exceeded that of Black households through recessions and booms over the past 30 years. While movements in white wealth are easier to see due to the larger scale, during the most recent economic downturn, median net worth declined more for Black families — 44.3% from 2007 to 2013 — than for white families — 26.1% in those years. In fact, the ratio of white family wealth to Black family wealth is higher today than at the start of the century. Andre Perry is a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institute, a scholar-in-residence at American University, and a columnist for the Hechinger Report. He said Birmingham has a clear history of having two tracks when it comes to economic development, a white track and a Black track. “Call it what you want, but that economic development has not led to the wealth creation in black communities,” Perry said. “Clearly, there are systems in place that advantage some at the expense of others.” Two U.S. Census Bureau researchers determined that the biggest determinants of household wealth are owning a home and having a retirement account. Using data from the 2015 Survey of Income and Program Participation, Jonathan Eggleston, an economist, and Donald Hays, a survey statistician in the Bureau’s Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division, found that the wealth inequality between homeowners and renters is striking, with the former having median net worth 80 times that of the latter. Further, they found wide variations in wealth across demographic and socioeconomic groups. Given that the two are using 2015 data and with the rapid increase in home values since then, the degree of inequality today is likely greater. Non-Hispanic white and Asian householders had more household wealth by far than Black and Hispanic householders. Non-Hispanic whites had a median household wealth of $139,300 and Asians had $156,300, compared with $12,780 for Black and $19,990 for Hispanic householders. Dr. Paulette Patterson Dilworth, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at UAB. (Source: UAB) Dr. Paulette Patterson Dilworth, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, cited the work of the late Berkeley researcher John Ogbu, who spoke to the notion of what it means to be a citizen in the United States. “How you entered the country has a lot to do with the context in which you function,” she said, differentiating between those who arrived as voluntary immigrants and those who came involuntarily as slaves. “The U.S. has always had a racialized history that has, to me, gone unchecked in many ways,” Dilworth said. “There’s always been this racialized history that’s embedded in how we have come to be as a nation at this particular point in time.” Race Affects Hiring Allen Tharpe, an associate professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Miles College, said employers often bring bias into their decisions of who they will hire. Who gets hired, in turn, impacts income. “People tend to hire people that look like themselves,” Tharpe said. “They tend to promote people that look like themselves. You have to go out of your way to hire somebody who doesn’t look like you.” Dilworth agreed that achieving diversity in hiring doesn’t happen by chance. “We must be thoughtful, purposeful and intentional in our efforts,” she said. “The way you do that is to consider that diversity, equity and inclusion efforts should undergird the framework that helps you build the organization.” ProPublica recently published a report, What Coronavirus Job Losses Reveal About Racism in America. It said that, while the devastating job losses of the past few months have affected all groups of Americans, Black, Hispanic and other workers of color have seen especially steep declines. The report said that disparity is partly because many workers of color, especially Black workers, didn’t come into the crisis on equal footing. At the beginning of 2020, when the U.S. was at what most would have considered peak economic prosperity, the unemployment rate for Black workers was more than double that of their white counterparts. “The classic fact about Black unemployment,” said William Darity Jr., an economist at Duke University who studies racial inequality, “is that it’s been two times the white rate since we started measuring it.” Looking at the past decade, ProPublica researchers found that Black Americans have faced unemployment levels for years that would be considered an economic catastrophe if they were the national average. “The Black unemployment rate is always ridiculously high, but we don’t treat it like a crisis,” said Jessica Fulton, vice president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. The report further noted that some groups of Americans, such as college graduates in wealthy households, have been relatively insulated from economic swings and have had some of the lowest levels of unemployment for the past decade. But even in these groups, the Black-white gap persists. Researchers say there is only one plausible explanation for this persistent disparity. “It’s racial discrimination,” said Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy. “We see (the disparity) at different age cohorts, we see it all across the country, we see it at every level of education.” Devaluing Black Communities Tharpe, the Miles College associate professor, said the racial divide in America has been intentional. “Slavery was pretty deliberate,” he said. “The whole Jim Crow era was deliberate. Local communities set boundaries about where African Americans should live. There were sections of town they couldn’t live. They (municipal leaders) put in zoning regulations that said houses in this area can’t be sold to a Black person. So, yeah, it was deliberate, in my opinion.” Allen Tharpe, an associate professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Miles College. (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.) Tharpe also cited the locations of industrial plants, taking note of those in North Birmingham blamed for high levels of pollution that led to an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund clean up. He pointed to other infrastructure decisions that negatively affected Black neighborhoods in the city. “Look where they built the freeway,” Tharpe said. “That part of (Birmingham) began to go downhill rapidly because the freeway split the community. They didn’t even attempt to go around it. They just drove right through it. “Look where 20/59 goes. They said they wanted to take the shortest route, but they didn’t always take the shortest route when they were building that. They took into account residents. So who’s living there? Primarily black people. We can build in that area because they don’t have any political power.” Investing in Black Communities Perry, the scholar-in-residence at American University, this year authored Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities. He dedicated a chapter to Birmingham real estate developer Brian K. Rice, who purchased eight buildings in Birmingham’s Ensley Community with the vision of breathing new life into the area. “There are efforts all across the country by black developers who are pursuing a buy-back-the-block strategy,” Perry said. “(Rice) represented a number of people across the country who truly want to develop commercial corridors in ways that help develop the adjacent community. “I was compelled by (Rice) because that’s what we absolutely need to excite economic mobility in areas that have been devalued by racism,” Perry continued. “At some point, you need to see investment in homes and commercial corridors and businesses on those corridors if you want to see the quality of life improve for Black people in those areas.” Perry cited instances of Blacks who have “family and friend dollars” to purchase properties only to be unable to get financing to develop that property. Conversely, he said he’s seen white developers whose investments to develop structures do not help neighboring communities, but they are still able to get financing to develop those projects. Perry wrote of Rice’s allegation that his appraisers intentionally devalued eight properties. The appraisal lists the total value of his block at $45,000, which includes $170,000 in land and property value minus $125,000 in demolition costs. “According to Rice,” Perry wrote, “the appraisers willfully selected the worst property comparison scenarios, comparing his properties to dissimilar rural parcels more than 10 miles away.” The developer argues that the devaluation of his property is evidence of racism. “Rice also argues,” Perry wrote, “that his bank is complicit in this bias, as they avoided ordering an appraisal for seven months.” Brian K Rice speaking at a Juneteenth event in front if his buildings in Ensley. (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.) Rice told BirminghamWatch that he has spoken with lawyers for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. “This is the number one organization that fights redlining issues in the entire country,” Rice said. “They’ve already done their internal reviews and they have done a couple desktop appraisals and they have identified this as unfair.” Rice also recently was the subject of a BBC News report, “The Frustration of Trying to Invest in My Hometown.” Perry said Rice’s story represents a city and a historic Black neighborhood that has a lot going for it, from its proximity to downtown, to transportation lines, to its history. “But what it doesn’t have is investment and a willingness to break the cycle of poverty,” Perry said. “And nothing grows without investment. If Birmingham as a whole wants to improve the quality of life for Blacks in the city in which there is a majority, they (city leaders) have to prove that they can develop a Black part of town. For me, (Rice) represented a great case that I could then follow.” Andre Perry speaking during a Zoom conversation. (Source: Zoom) Perry recently took part in a livestreamed conversation hosted by Schott Foundation for Public Education, called Valuing Black Lives: Understanding Racism in American Education, Housing and Policing. During that event, Perry said it’s possible to quantify the “hundreds of billions of dollars” that’s been extracted from the Black community by racism. Perry said a lot of his research revolves around housing devaluation. His research shows a connection between the devaluation of housing and deficiencies in education in Black communities. He said home prices in Birmingham are significantly lower than in other cities, resulting in less property taxes for the city. “The city uses tax revenue to fund things like education, police, infrastructure,” he said. “Birmingham is losing millions because of housing devaluations.” Perry compared housing prices in a neighborhood where the share of the Black population is greater than 50% with one where the Black population is less than 1% percent. He controlled for all the reasons people say houses in Black neighborhoods have lower prices, including education, crime, walkability, “all those fancy Zillow metrics,” as he put it. Perry’s research determined that homes in Black neighborhoods are devalued by 23%, or approximately $40,000 per home. Nationally, he said, that amounts to about $156 billion in lost equity. “In Birmingham, in particular, the Birmingham-Hoover metro, there’s a 39% difference between equivalent homes in Black neighborhoods than white neighborhoods, resulting in a close to $45,000 difference in home value per home,” Perry said. Partly because of that disparity, education gaps between white communities and Black communities are not solely the fault of teachers, students or school boards. “It’s clear that housing devaluation is robbing billions from cities, and financing to help education and educational support services,” he said. “We need to stop blaming Black people. I say this all the time, that there’s nothing wrong with Black people that ending racism can’t solve.” Ending racism begins with investing in Black communities, investing particularly in endeavors that amplify the investment, the researcher surmised. “When you invest in Black teachers, that investment leads to the heightening of human capital for children,” Perry said. “When you invest in police, you’re literally arresting economic mobility. That investment in Brian Rice is the kind of investment that leads to economic growth. Many would rather put police in Ensley rather than invest in a commercial corridor.” THE LEGACY OF RACE
Ensley business alliance says Ramsay-McCormack building demo dust affecting health; By Cassie Fambro; Updated: Apr. 16, 2021 at 11:04 PM CDT; BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - This week, the remaining floors of the historic Ramsay-McCormack building were demolished, but local business owners say they weren’t notified. Ensley’s business alliance tells us that they were essentially left in the dust. The Ramsay-McCormack building towered over the Ensley community for almost 9 decades, before demo began in October, floor-by-floor. Tuesday, the building was deconstructed completely, creating a plume of dust. But business owners say they had no idea the big demo was going to happen on Tuesday and they’re now concerned about health effects. “It immediately covered two blocks, pretty fast,” said Brian K. Rice, president of the Ensley Business Alliance. He says as soon as he could, he grabbed his camera. “I started trying to record, and trying to capture everything,” said the businessman. A photo taken immediately afterward showed Regions, with customers still in line. Another showed a family walking, caught off guard as the dust settled. He spoke to business owners immediately. “I said I don’t know if your eyes are burning, but my eyes are burning, and that’s how I learned of those who had the bronchitis, the asthma,” said Rice. A spokesperson for the City of Birmingham tells me there was a development meeting April 11 via Zoom where those who attended were notified. Rice says notification did not happen by any other means. The Jefferson County Department of Health told me they have received multiple complaints in addition to Rice’s, and were back in Ensley today surveying the site. Rice said health officials told him they will be back. “They said the majority of the responsibility is on the demolition department in the city of Birmingham.” He’s asking the demolition crews to take greater care to mitigate the dust, and to have a new community meeting to discuss what’s next. Rice is also carrying a portable air quality tester which showed poor quality levels as recently as Friday morning,
Ramsay-McCormack Building demolished ahead of redevelopment in Ensley; by: Phil Pinarski; Posted: Apr 13, 2021; BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The city of Birmingham has begun its efforts to revitalize the business district in Ensley by demolishing the Ramsay-McCormack Building Tuesday evening. The building had previously laid vacant for 38 years before the city agreed to a contract with Ensley District Developers (EDD) back in October 2020. WATCH THE DEMOLITION DOWN BELOW: ADVERTISING The 10-story building was taken down after materials were salvaged from the building. These saved materials will be used to help construct the new five-story, 30,000 square foot building. Ensley business owners and residents went by the old building Tuesday and watched the final moments of the Ramsay-McCormack legacy. Some people think the change will be good for the community, but others believe the building should still be standing. “Out with the old and in with the new,” Attorney Antonio Spurling said. Brian K Rice with the Ensley Business Alliance says whenever someone thought about Downtown Ensley, they thought about the Ramsay McCormick Building. “Everybody who knows Ensley remembers that star that you could see at Ensley Highlands. You could see it from downtown Birmingham,” Rice said. Rice was taking photos and videos of the building in it’s final moments. “To me, this is not going to happen again. This building is a true landmark to the entire western area of Birmingham,” Rice said. Spurling is with the Ensley Revitalization Committee. He says this project will benefit the area. “There will be a significant investment in that community that the western section of Birmingham has not seen in the last 40 years,” Spurling said. Spurling says the city of Birmingham has neglected the property for decades and that this project is what’s best for it. “There are court rulings from judges that have assessed this as blight that adversely affected property values in that area,” Spurling said. Rice disagrees with the idea. “I think structurally, everything about that building was sound,” Rice said. But Rice is embracing the change coming to the area, but he believes those building into the future should be held accountable. “So, as a community, we have to figure out the best way to support the development forward,” Rice said. The project is expected to be completed near the end of 2022. You can read more about the city’s plans for revitalization by clicking here.
Ramsay McCormack building Downtown Ensley, Birmingham, AL - "BHAM-Wiki". on April 13, 2021. Nearby business owners were caught by surprise as the timing of the implosion had only been communicated to attendees of an online meeting two days prior. Brian Rice, who was in the process of redeveloping several nearby properties and was president of the Ensley Business Alliance, complained to the Jefferson County Department of Health about the potentially hazardous cloud of debris hanging in the air.
WVTM 13 Investigates: Lawsuit could be slowing Ensley development City giving project developer up to $6 million; WVTM logoUpdated: 6:58 PM CDT Sep 14, 2022; Jon Paepcke; Investigative Reporter; City leaders said a lawsuit filed by a demolition contractor could be slowing a $12 million Ensley development. The Ramsay McCormack office tower was demolished in Spring 2021, but there is very little physical progress on the site since then.
Brian speaks about his dream of urban inner city economic development and the restoring each building in Downtown Ensley in Birmingham, Alabama
Brian K Rice was interviewed on the The Young Turks in the middle of his economic injustice fight in Birmingham, AL. Brian is leading the fight against systemic barriers, systemic barriers and redlining today in underserved community in black America.