Part two in a multi-part series. Read parts onethree, and four.

It’s time to rethink how we create economic prosperity in our neighborhoods. In cities across the U.S., rapid development often excludes the people and businesses who live in these communities. But one organization is taking a new approach that helps neighborhoods thrive.

In northeast Philadelphia, Kensington Corridor Trust (KCT) is working to build local wealth among residents and move real estate assets out of the private market and away from extractive development. KCT acquires land for the purpose of neighborhood ownership and reinvests assets back into the Kensington community. This model helps to attract and accelerate businesses to provide goods and services that meet local needs, and increases job opportunities.

KCT is included in ImpactPHL’s index of impact investments, which lists investments that create positive social outcomes in Greater Philadelphia.

Adriana Abizadeh, Executive Director, Kensington Corridor Trust

Giving Compass spoke with Adriana Abizadeh, executive director of Kensington Corridor Trust, to learn more about the organization's acquisition model, the challenges it faces, and how impact investors and donors can get involved. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Can you briefly share some history about the Kensington Corridor Trust? What was the impetus to start the organization?

Kensington Corridor Trust was formed in 2019 by four partner organizations: a local Community Development Corporation (CDC), a local B Corp developer, a small business incubator and accelerator, and the City of Philadelphia's public-private partnership for economic development. They came together after a neighborhood plan identified two specific things related to the corridor: one, residents wanted to see the spaces reactivated and two, folks wanted to see clearer pathways for residents from the neighborhood to have businesses in the bricks and mortar. 

The Kensington Corridor Trust was born to focus on the Kensington Avenue corridor to purchase and acquire assets – both vacant land and commercial mixed-use buildings – and put them into a trust for the neighborhood to directly govern to preserve local ownership and affordability intergenerationally.

How does the KCT approach (acquisition, relying on strategic partnerships and focus on neighborhood ownership) lead to long-term affordability and economic prosperity in the Kensington neighborhood?

We’re currently doing acquisition with foundation dollars and some program-related and mission-aligned investments. Our strongest partnership right now is with Impact Services, the CDC that helped form us. They spearheaded the neighborhood plan, and have many community connectors who are on the ground engaging in conversations with residents and business owners regularly, and building community in that way. 

We all know that historically in this nation, the folks who were able to amass land, amassed wealth, and the folks who amassed wealth, amassed power. Land has value. What we're hoping to do is to amass that value collectively for folks in this neighborhood to access wealth and directly benefit from the assets and the surplus revenue that is reinvested back into the neighborhood. 

Additionally, we’re in the process of defining the purpose for our trust structure in the KCT model, and it looks like the neighborhood is going to indicate that they would like for the assets to be able to transfer out after a certain period of time to long-term commercial tenants to build their own intergenerational wealth. We want to (eventually) utilize these assets to leverage intergenerational individual wealth building, as well.

What real estate barriers exist in the Kensington neighborhood and how does the Trust help address them? What challenges still remain?

I don't have the cash on-hand to compete with private developers. Also, because we are a neighborhood governance organization, we have to go through the processes of getting the neighborhood to agree to take on the asset and say that the asset is something that they want stewarded for them collectively.

Can you share how investments in KCT have advanced your efforts and what outcomes have resulted from supportive investors? 

We were able to secure two investments, one from a foundation and one from an individual investor that allowed us to acquire 11 contiguous lots and put them together as a community garden. These were lots that were previously vacant and dilapidated. We brought them into the trust and are in the process of putting a mural up and doing some benching so that folks have a spot to come eat lunch or read a book. Community events at the garden, including planting days, have been really well attended and folks are very excited about the space.

How does the Trust contribute to power building in communities?

We work really closely with the civic associations and the neighborhood associations that are very engaged in the neighborhood. Additionally, we have a full-time organizer who works on educating the community about how the KCT model benefits folks and how they can participate in governance. We help neighbors that are working in silos to facilitate connections. The folks who live in Kensington have power and know how to do advocacy work, but they do it block by block, pocket by pocket. They see success on some level, but it could be more effective if they worked together. That’s where KCT is helping to really provide additional growth and support in power building, serving as a connector and convener for advocacy related to the corridor.

What advice would you give to impact investors who want to get involved in a city or similar model? 

My advice is that they should listen to the folks on the ground who don't have the opportunity to walk away at five o'clock. When things are happening in their neighborhood, they're actively hearing it; it is part of their environment, their daily trauma, and lived experience. For donors who want to make meaningful investments and impact investments specifically into projects like the KCT, you have to be willing to walk in with a blank slate; not a preconceived idea for how dollars should be expended and the impact points you want. Investors should learn what the neighborhood needs, and be responsive to those needs. 

Finally, make sure the folks who are at the table actually represent the space that you're investing in. Don't invest dollars as an outsider into a group of outsiders. Make sure that folks who live in those neighborhoods have governance over what's happening. 

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