By Joel Amin Jr.
We — Bryce Fender, Demetrius Thorn and myself — envision a future where families experiencing homelessness are provided with stable housing and intensive social services to support them on their path toward home ownership.
We’re now college seniors at the University of Delaware and Penn, but the three of us met in middle school at Conrad Schools of Science and have brought together our talents to do what we call “social impact real estate investing.” After multiple pivots, we launched Wilminvest in January 2017.
Now rooted in Northeast Wilmington’s Riverside neighborhood, Wilminvest is proactively working alongside the local initiatives that are putting forth the Riverside Revitalization Plan. In November 2018, Delaware Public Media published an article that stated: “The multifaceted redevelopment calls for the creation of a high-quality, mixed-income community of about 400 units to replace an aging 293-unit public housing project; establishment of a cradle-to-college or career-ready education pipeline centered on the East Side Charter School, construction of a new Kingswood Community Center; and development of a community health and wellness initiative. Project planners estimate an overall cost in the neighborhood of $100 million.”
The Riverside Neighborhood was recently named as the 19th Purpose Built Community in the U.S. Purpose Built Communities is a nonprofit organization founded by Tom Cousins, Warren Buffett and Julian Robertson that replicates Cousins’ East Lake model of community redevelopment in other cities across the country.
A real estate mentor once told us that “real estate used to be about ‘location, location, location,’ but we are now living in a time where ‘timing, timing, timing’ seems to be equally if not more important.” Wilmington has around 1,700 vacant and abandoned properties and, according to the Corporation for Supportive Housing, also needs more than 7,500 beds.
Our team is using public-private partnerships to raise low-cost capital to purchase and renovate vacant properties for families in need. Their homes are used to as a launchpad for partner organizations to use collective impact to prepare residents to become responsible homeowners. Wilminvest is strategically placing our homes in neighborhoods where they will have a significant impact in the community.
The data behind the positive outcomes or successful exits of our traditional public housing programs does not show compelling evidence as to why we continue to practice these models.
Our mission is to increase the rates of families in public housing successfully exiting these programs through the strategic deliverance of social services with emphasis on specific outcomes related to becoming a homeowner. Wilminvest has adopted the “Sanctuary Model” by Dr. Sandra L. Bloom as the basis for our approach to housing.
Delaware has large, publicly funded housing organizations investing millions of dollars annually that, in some cases, have little to no accountability for the individuals or family outcomes.
At Wilminvest, we believe we can produce tangible impact with just a fraction of this funding. We have raised funds and acquired and renovated three homes. We have also negotiated a contract with the State of Delaware to run a pilot program focused on capturing and analyzing data related to the progression of the families in the homes. We hope to use this traction to raise our next round of funding.
We plan to scale to 30 properties as quickly as possible, as we approach graduation.
As a semi-finalist in the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation’s Reinventing Delaware program, we continue to grow our company with the support of a fantastic entrepreneurial ecosystem powered by Horn Entrepreneurship and 1313 Innovation.
Broadly defined as “the support of social and environmental projects with a financial return is the trillion-dollar trend that most people have never heard of,” impact investing is poised over the next decade to eclipse traditional charitable aid by 10 times, serving as the primary driving force behind initiatives such as job creation and quality affordable housing.
Wilminvest operates uniquely in the center of the nonprofit, government and private sector, effectively leveraging these relationships and resources. The way we do so not only delivers tangible social change, but also yields a competitive return on investment. We believe we are at the forefront of developing a specific form of impact investment called social impact real estate investing.
Wilminvest is proof that we are in the beginning of an era where one can do good work and earn sufficient returns at the same time.