UpNext is an editorial series highlighting eight burgeoning business and real estate developers who are impacting the economic mobility of Detroit. Presented by the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, the series highlights Detroit professionals who are leaders, innovators, and influencers in their industry and community. This week’s UpNext profile is Chase Cantrell. Cantrell is the founder and executive director of Building Community Value (BCV) which helps Detroiters bring the built environment back to life in our neighborhoods.
Initially, Cantrell practiced corporate and real estate law, helping complete complex deals at a firm, but he felt the need to do more.
“Money and influence was flowing on these big projects, they were led by white developers. They were all white men,” said Cantrell. “It hit me really hard that I’m in this Black city; most of my colleagues at the firm don’t look like me, but also most of our clients don’t look like me. Essentially, over time, I realized I had to do something that gave more power to us.”
Cantrell left his six-figure job and started his nonprofit, BCV, in 2016.
“The premise has been simple. We respond to the aspirations of Detroiters. Detroiters want to build in their community. They want to rehab properties. They want to build generational wealth, and there’s no lack of vision in our neighborhoods.”
BCV’s signature resource program, Better Buildings, Better Blocks, is a 6-week training course that teaches the nuts and bolts of small-scale real estate development to Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park residents. In 2017, it was awarded a $150,000 grant through the Knight Cities Challenge. Additionally, 300 people have completed the course, and a quarter of them have gone on to start development projects in their neighborhood.
“Most of them are native Detroiters who have seen their neighborhoods evolve in really challenging ways,” said Cantrell. “They want to roll up their sleeves and put in the work and capital to bring these neighborhoods back, so that’s what we’re trying to provide…technical assistance to help mostly Black and Brown Detroiters.”
While Cantrell is excited for those accessing BCV, he recognizes the difficulty of turning their passion into a viable project. He cites lack of capital being a major roadblock.
“Unless there is a true unlocking of federal or state dollars or a shift in priorities from the Duggan administration, we are likely headed to a period of economic stagnation, especially around real estate development.”
He says there are two levels capital needs to come from.
“One is government, and that can be a community push in terms of where we put our limited budget dollars. The trickier level where this works is the banks. There aren’t that many financial products, especially for folks who are doing small-scale development. Part of what government can do is to push and demand that the banks change policy.”
Short term, Cantrell, a native Detroiter, aims for his work to establish platforms for Black people to transform and take agency over their own communities.
“Long term, the goal is for Detroit to become a beacon of Black culture and Black innovation in community ownership and development…As Black people we need to own the narrative that Detroit’s renaissance isn’t going to come from white millennials. The innovation that is happening now, much of it is from Black people.”