Growing up in South Jamaica, Queens, the son of Nigerian immigrants, David Alade was raised with a great sense of community responsibility.
A graduate of Columbia University, he worked on Wall Street for Lehman Brothers, Barclays and Credit Suisse, and also as an investment banker, where he learned how to value assets. His career took him to Detroit, where he did some work with GM and Chrysler, and he fell in love with the Motor City.
When a friend shared a book about the history of Detroit, he was struck by how much of an economic, manufacturing and cultural hub the city was in the United States, and globally, especially for the Black community. In 2014, he decided to take a chance, not only on himself, but on the city of Detroit.
With the investment into a single home on Atkinson Street, a then-distressed section near the city’s North End, he launched Century Partners, a real estate development and management firm that is transforming Detroit one home at a time.
“Detroit was the Silicon Valley of the auto industry,” Alade says. “For Black folks, it was a place they could move to from the South and get some economic independence, with the auto companies and the unions. It was the birthplace of the middle class for many Americans. For myself, the opportunity to play a part in the comeback of such a globally iconic and important city was something I couldn’t pass up.”
The idea was to invest in Detroit’s under-resourced and neglected neighborhoods. Most of the corporate investment was in the city’s downtown, but Alade saw opportunity for success – and more importantly, community recovery – in the neighborhoods that were rife with crime, blight and vacant properties. But he wasn’t interested in simply flipping houses and gentrification. He wanted the community to have a stake in the revitalization of the neighborhoods.
“The house on Atkinson where we started, it you put it one block north, it could be worth four-to-five times more,” he said. “We thought, what if we can solve some of the reasons that creates that price divergence.”
He hired local contractors of color, brought in local investors, hired local landscapers, and sought out good, hard-working tenants to fill the newly renovated historic homes. And slowly, neighborhoods transformed. That one house on Atkinson Street soon turned into 20 houses on the street.
By 2018, Century Partners had rehabbed 100 houses. They now have more than 120 renovated houses, as well as another 150 units in development. They’ve expanded and are now acquiring buildings of 10 or more units, with the goal of turning them into quality housing while providing jobs and equity for Detroit residents.
As an example, he cites a recent transaction in which the company helped a young African American single mother purchase a two-family home, which allowed her to live in one unit while subsidizing her mortgage with rent from the other.
“You shouldn’t have to be rich to get access to high quality housing. If you are a working class Detroiter, we have a lot of units in our portfolio that would be a good fit,” he says.
Century Partners, a graduate of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program (Detroit 2018), was recognized as one of the nation’s 100 fastest-growing businesses in an under-resourced community, ranking #27 on ICIC’s 2021 Inner City 100 (IC100) list – an experience David says was invaluable for company morale.
“Folks on the team felt good. Everyone had been working really hard through the pandemic. That validation that our hard work had been recognized was helpful internally,” he explained. “I hope that going forward, we’ll continue to see more benefits, particularly on the capital side.”
The company raised some capital in January 2020, which helped the firm trudge through slowdowns during the early days of the pandemic, and launched a second initiative in March 2020, called the Rust Belt Multi-Family Fund, which allowed the firm to buy several properties.
Alade expects continued growth in 2022, as he and his team continue to work toward transforming under-served neighborhoods across Detroit.
“We want to get residents invested in the community,” he says. “We are focused on activation – to unlock the beautiful potential of these neighborhoods.”
Since 1999, ICIC has identified and celebrated the 100 fastest-growing businesses in under-resourced communities through the Inner City 100 (IC100). To learn more about the award program and IC100’s class of 2021, visit: https://icic.org/urban-business-initiatives/inner-city-100/
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