Press Release Community Desk Chicago launches with $2.7 million initiative to help three South and West Side groups control their own destinies

April 11, 2022


Community Desk Chicago Logos

The newly formed community ‘help desk’ connects investors with Chicago communities to realize locally driven real estate development in communities of color.

CHICAGO – A new kind of help desk is making it possible for Chicago communities to control their own destinies. Community Desk Chicago (The Desk) works to catalyze equitable economic prosperity in communities of color by serving as the critical connective tissue between communities with development goals and funders and investors interested in equitable outcomes.

“All Chicago communities deserve access to holistic amenities and services and the capital that makes those things possible,” says Ja’Net Defell, Director of The Desk. “That capital also gives small business owners in Black and Brown communities the opportunity to build wealth and influence how development happens in their neighborhoods.”

The Desk works on two fronts to advance its mission – advancing specific projects as well as working at the ecosystem level to increase access to capital and build local development capacity.

  • At the project level, The Desk works with nonprofits, entrepreneurs, and community developers to better position their development projects for funding and helps vet and translate the investment opportunity for funders, investors, and other capital providers.
  • At the ecosystem level, The Desk advocates to reduce barriers to accessing capital, such as credit history, equity requirements and project appraisals. The Desk also works to empower communities to attract investments through capital pooling strategies and wealth-building opportunities.

Recently, The Desk launched a new initiative that will combine both approaches: The Neighborhood Developers Initiative (NDI), a $2.7 million investment that will build the capacity of three South and West Side organizations to take on real estate development projects at the local level. The three community-based organizations are Puerto Rican Cultural Center, Teamwork Englewood, and South Shore Chamber Community Development Corporation.

Juan Calderon of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center says the NDI is different from other programs because it builds upon existing work and provides a one-stop-shop for all the resources participants need to move critical development goals forward.

“When you work in community, you often have to patch together resources – one capacity-building program here, one grant there – and sometimes programs don’t fit neatly into what we’re trying to do,” Calderon says. “But with NDI, there’s no cookie-cutter approach that we have to fit into. They are providing really customized consulting on the projects we already want to move forward. They’re providing seed money to get it off the drawing board. They’re connecting us with other funders and investors, and they’re helping us build skills and relationships to keep doing this kind of work. They truly walk us through the entire process. This is exactly what grassroots community initiatives really need.”

According to Defell, that’s exactly how the NDI was designed to work.

“This is about teaching people to fish, while recognizing that they need fishing rods and a boat and a way to access the water in the first place,” Defell says. “Community-based organizations are often excluded from the deal-making process because they lack the equity or knowledge to manage real estate projects. NDI is investing in trusted local leaders and empowering them with the knowledge and tools necessary to take a more active role in development efforts impacting their communities.”

The intention is to better position participating organizations to work alongside real estate developers building in their communities and to advance each community’s development goals in a collaborative way – while also supporting actual projects that can build both wealth and capacity. Specifically, the NDI will focus on:

  • BUILDING KNOWLEDGE: NDI will provide structured learning, coaching, and technical assistance focused on building knowledge around real estate development and creating the necessary plans to be successful. This includes creating a staffing plan, legal structure, and development strategy.
  • ADVANCING COLLABORATIVE DEVELOPMENT: Building off their training and community knowledge, NDI will help participants define their development role to support implementation of existing community plans and other emerging development efforts focused on community ownership. 
  • PROVIDING SEED CAPITAL, STAFFING & SUPPORT FOR DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS: NDI will assist organizations in launching their development plans with support for at least one actual project, which will include both seed capital as well as funding to support a development staff person for 2 years.

“Developers are starting to recognize the enterprising opportunities and signature assets that reside in our neighborhoods. That’s why it’s absolutely imperative for us to serve as true gatekeepers and guardians of community-centered development,” says Tonya Trice, Executive Director of the South Shore Chamber Community Development Corporation (SSCCDC). “Historically, community groups such as ours have been invited to the engagement process, yet our ability to advocate and influence project scopes has been severely compromised due to our meager equity status. By way of the NDI and its diverse universe of tools – including access to capital – a new day is dawning and SSCCDC stands ready to help transform the future of our neighborhood.”

Cecile DeMello of Teamwork Englewood says: “The best developments are the ones that are truly collaborative. It takes many, many partners to ensure developments are done not only in communities, but for and by communities – all while ensuring the projects are financially feasible. Our goal is to accomplish all of that, in coordination with local leaders, developers who want to work with us, and the many funders and investors who see that we are worthy of their investment. NDI will be critical to helping us pull all those strings together.”

The Neighborhood Developers Initiative is supported with funding from The Robert R. McCormick Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, Polk Bros. Foundation, and JPMorgan Chase.


About Community Desk Chicago: Community Desk Chicago works to catalyze equitable economic development in Chicago’s historically underserved Black and Latinx neighborhoods by leveraging private market expertise and trusted investor relationships to help communities achieve their economic development goals. Community projects supported by The Desk drive direct economic and social change that improves quality of life while supporting job creation and wealth-building. The Desk was established in 2019 at The Chicago Community Trust through a collaborative partnership with the Boston Consulting Group’s Center for Illinois’ Future and JPMorgan Chase.

Puerto Rican Cultural Center: The Puerto Rican Cultural Center (PRCC) is a community-based, grassroots, educational, health and cultural services organization founded on the principles of self-determination, self-actualization, and self-sufficiency. Ongoing projects focus on areas of community safety, HIV and sexual health awareness, urban agriculture, housing and economic assistance and more. Every year, PRCC brings community members together through events including the Three Kings Winterfest, Peoples Parade, Fiesta Boricua and Haunted Paseo.

The South Shore Chamber Community Development Corporation (CDC) was founded in 2019 as a community-focused arm of the long-established South Shore Chamber of Commerce (Chamber). The Chamber and CDC bring together a powerful combination of supportive services for aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners, as well as community-led development and wealth-building efforts. These enterprises go hand-in-hand to ensure that South Shore is empowered with the right tools, capital, networks, and skills to achieve the economic development goals that the community identifies and to ensure a welcoming atmosphere for businesses that bring jobs and wealth to South Shore. The CDC aims to not only facilitate community input, but also to implement economic-based initiatives that enable access and control of real estate in our neighborhood. When communities thrive, businesses prosper; and when small businesses succeed, communities benefit. 

Teamwork Englewood: Teamwork Englewood is a non-profit organization committed to improving the quality of life for residents of Chicago’s Englewood community through economic, educational and social opportunities. Teamwork Englewood’s Leading program, the Englewood Quality of Life Plan, fosters collaboration between residents and supporting organizations to strengthen local initiatives for the enhancement of public safety, economic development, health, and youth education.