Dr. Gina Merritt recalled having a recurring dream that she had while growing up.
“When I was a kid, I would have the same nightmare about a bulldozer,” she said. “I would have this same dream two or three times a week. Sometimes the bulldozer would catch me, and sometimes it wouldn’t catch me. I would cry because the dream stressed me out for years.”
According to Merritt, she had the dream from the time she was eight to fifteen. However, when she drove to a worksite in Northern Virginia on her first day of working at a new job there in her adult years, Merritt saw something that immediately reminded her of the dream she frequently had as a child.
“I drove up to the job site and what did I see? A bulldozer. I sat there in my car crying and trembling. I lost it when I drove up and saw that bulldozer. But then I realized it was divine, and that this is what I was supposed to be doing,” Merritt said.
Today, Merritt is the developer and founder of Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures (NREUV), LLC. She has over 26 years of hands-on real estate development; finance; construction; and asset management experience. The entrepreneur specializes in development projects that provide residents with access to employment and health services; childcare; community spaces; and other support services. Merritt has participated in the development of over 7,500 units of housing.
“I wake up every day so happy to be doing what I am doing, and it’s so clear (that) this is what I was meant to do,” Merritt said.
Merritt is among 39 individuals who have been selected for “Growing Diverse Housing Developers,” a $40 million grant initiative focused on expanding the growth and success of real estate developers of color, including Black- and Latino-owned firms. The initiative seeks to address barriers which make it difficult for real estate developers of color to enter the roughly $175 billion U.S. housing development market.
Launched in collaboration with Capital Impact Partners; Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF); Raza Development Fund (RDF); and Reinvestment Fund; Growing Diverse Housing Developers aims to increase the supply of homes that are affordable across the country. Working together, these four Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) provide Merritt and the other real estate developers an opportunity to take part in a four-year program. Participants will have access to lower-cost, flexible capital, as well as the training, mentors and resources needed to expand the production of multifamily and mixed-use housing development projects.
“This is a humongous opportunity for me,” said Merritt. “I’ve got years of experience, and I’ve made millions of dollars for other companies, but I don’t have the balance sheet that demonstrates all that experience. This program is going to help me to fund my enterprise right at an organizational level. The program is also going to create real estate products, and other balance sheet products that will help support developers like myself, who have been able to work in the industry, and manage projects, but don’t have the friends and family money that our white counterparts have.”
Through a $40 million grant initiative from Wells Fargo, Capital Impact Partners joined forces with LIIF and Reinvestment Fund to create a national learning cohort of 27 housing developers, both nonprofit and for-profit. They are based out of California; Georgia; Texas; and the Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. metropolitan regions. The three mission driven CDFIs will work together to provide the cohort with access to capital and resources to advance their development pipelines and grow their businesses. Capacity-building grants and more than $100 million have been committed toward innovative loan products to provide assistance.
“We want to increase racial equity in real estate development, ultimately creating a more inclusive housing ecosystem,” said Bill Daley, vice chairman of public affairs at Wells Fargo. “One stark reality is that people of color are significantly underfunded and underrepresented in the real estate industry. Through Growing Diverse Housing Developers, we can help strengthen diverse housing developers, enabling them to grow their businesses, and at the same time, offer communities more affordable options for renters and homeowners.”
Merritt holds a Doctorate of Social Work from the University of Southern California; an MBA from the University of Virginia, Darden Graduate School of Business; and a Bachelor of Business Administration from Howard University. Her company, Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures, is currently managing the development of over $300 million in development projects.
“Now, I will be able to do deals on my own merits,” said Merritt. “This program allows me to be the decision maker, which is something I’ve been lacking for more than two decades. The only way you get deals done is with money. That’s something Black developers don’t have either because they don’t have access to money, or the banks won’t loan it to us. This grant allows me to generate my own wealth and do so much more for my community.”
Merritt remarked that she expressed gratitude for the wonderful opportunity of being selected as a Wells Fargo grant recipient.