E-commerce tech company Amazon has launched a multimillion dollar program to help real estate developers of color advance their careers in the industry.

Through the company’s more than $2 billion Amazon Housing Equity Fund, Amazon is investing $21 million to pilot the two-year accelerator program. The part-time professional program is offered free of charge to people in Washington state’s Puget Sound region, Arlington, VA, and Nashville, TN. 

“With this accelerator program, we are laser-focused on lifting up emerging real estate developers of color. We want to foster their professional growth through education and training, as well as improve their access to capital, which can be elusive to developers of color,” said Catherine Buell, director of the Amazon Housing Equity Fund.

“If we are going to bring about lasting, holistic and meaningful change to how affordable housing is developed, developers of color need to be a part of the solution,” she added.

Amazon reported that, according to a 2019 report, 5% of its U.S. members are Black and 82% are white; Blacks represent more than 13% of the U.S. population.

“Developers of color bring enormous opportunity for creative and inclusive solutions to community-focused real estate development, but systemic issues continue to create multiple barriers to their success,” said Ellis Carr, president and CEO of Capital Impact Partners and CDC Small Business Finance.

Amazon said it is trying to address the disparity by partnering with social impact and economic justice organizations to develop curriculums and networking opportunities at the local level.

The initial cohort of the program will include up to 30 total participants, each of whom will receive virtual and in-person classroom instruction on real estate fundamentals, affordable housing trends, public policy and financing best practices, along with small-group mentoring. Participants will have professional networking opportunities with industry leaders, researchers and established real estate developers, the company said.

To make the program work, participants will be provided the means to take this knowledge into the real world with access to capital for pre-development expenses, such as architectural and engineering costs; permitting, survey and site-planning fees; and market and feasibility studies.

“Through this program, we are partnering with Amazon in helping open doors for people of color who can then pay their experience forward,” Carr said.