YIELD Chicago: Building Capacity, Building Communities

What does it mean to begin a successful capacity-building program in one of our most tumultuous and unpredictable years? Just a few months ago, Otherwise collaborated with LISC Chicago and Urban Land Institute (ULI) to give a name and visual identity to their most recent initiative: YIELD Chicago. And in March 2020, YIELD Chicago kicked off amidst a burgeoning pandemic and national protests. We sat down with Torrence Moore, Senior Director, Community Development at LISC Chicago, to discuss the program’s unusual start and steadfast, robust vision.

A Vision to Build Capacity

Created in response to the lack of representation in the real estate development sector, YIELD Chicago is a cohort program that seeks to build capacity of up and coming developers of color through networking and access to capital.

“By pairing emerging developers with their seasoned peers, the experienced developers bring to the table sage, practical advice acquired during their time in the industry. Meanwhile, the emerging cohort brings a unique, distinctive knowledge of their own neighborhoods, and what those communities need,” says Moore. The first YIELD Chicago cohort includes eight emerging developers.

Torrence Moore, Senior Director, Community Development at LISC Chicago
Torrence Moore, Senior Director, Community Development at LISC Chicago

In addition to building professional capacity, YIELD Chicago’s vision includes building community wealth. Therefore, each emerging cohort member has a project developing, or already in the works, on the South and West Sides of Chicago. “In building their capacity, we’re empowering our cohort to reinvest in their own communities and bring much needed resources,” explains Moore.

As an example, one project from the first cohort is a Transit Oriented Development that includes a mix of affordable housing units alongside commercial and retail space in Bronzeville adjacent to a train station on the Green Line.

“We’re investing in resourceful people who will, in turn, bring more resources to neighborhoods — but we’re also growing community pride. Our cohorts’ projects are developed by the community, for the community, and they don’t just bring much needed resources and leave it at that. Once these developments are established, they provide potential for local entrepreneurs to thrive, for more jobs to be created,” says Moore of YIELD Chicago’s wide-reaching impact. “It becomes a true snowball effect.”

“This program wouldn’t be possible without our partners at ULI Chicago, and our sponsors at J.P. Morgan Chase and the Pritzker Taubert Foundation. Just like the YIELD cohort model, we’re pooling our networks and resources together for powerful, collective impact,” says Moore.

Operating Amidst 2020

Originally slated to kickoff in early 2020, YIELD Chicago began its cohort program in the thick of March’s COVID-19 confusion. “Like everyone else, our lives went virtual. We began our first cohort session over Zoom, and ever since we’ve adjusted to having all sessions online,” says Moore.

“Of course, it’s been challenging to foster the organic connections we really want to occur in our cohorts. On Zoom, everything that’s said is “on the record” and it can be tricky to mirror the nature of breakout sessions that would happen naturally if we were in person,” tells Moore. Nevertheless, YIELD Chicago is coming up with creative solutions to combat that. “We recently hosted a virtual happy hour, where we had wine and charcuterie boards sent to each cohort member, and we all wined and dined together on camera.”

In addition to the viral pandemic, the murder of George Floyd in June sent waves across the country, sparking heightened awareness of racial injustice. “With everything that was and is happening, it’s reinforced the need for programs like YIELD,” reflects Moore. “While many folks are only just reacting to the Black Lives Matter movement and coming to terms with systemic racism, our program saw the need and has been addressing these issues from the get-go.”

As other institutions begin their own capacity-building initiatives, seeking to address diversity and inclusion within their own industry, YIELD Chicago becomes a strong model and teaching tool. Moore says: “We’re excited about the work we’re doing now, but we know it takes more than this one cohort to enact the necessary, widespread change. We look forward to continuing to work towards that change, and to learning with others alongside the way.”