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Land Conservation Group Moves Forward On Urban Community Development Efforts

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KNKX

A Seattle organization known for conserving forest and farmland has achieved a milestone in its urban efforts.

Forterra has raised $10.25 million in investments into its "Strong Communities Fund." It's one avenue service providers and community groups can use to have more say in what gets developed in their neighborhoods.

"Whether it's to preserve place for an old growth tree to grow or for a community to grow, the opportunity to retain land is a need that is urgent on both sides of the urban line, if you will," said Forterra Executive Vice President Michelle Connor.

It works like this: Say there's a parcel that's ripe for development. If a developer buys it, neighbors might not have a lot of say in what goes there. They may be worried about displacement.

Instead, community organizations can pitch their own plans to Forterra. The conservancy can then use the fund to buy that parcel essentially on the community groups' behalf. 

Forterra has already put up money for two projects. The organization is working with Africatown Community Land Trust in Seattle's Central district to encourage black homeownership and combat gentrification.

And Forterra has purchased a motel across the street from a mosque in Tukwila. The Abubakr Islamic Center intends on developing a marketplace for immigrant-owned businesses before turning the parcel into transitional housing for immigrants and refugees.

In both cases, the groups will work on paying Forterra back eventually. But there is a lot more flexibility than what might be seen in more traditional real estate deals.

Investors in the fund will also be making less money than they would with more typical real estate investments. But Connor notes the rise of "social-impact investing" and says Forterra's fund is attractive to philanthropists.

"They're actually giving back to the community as effectively if not more effectively than just granting their funds," Connor said. "So when we provide the quarterly reports to these investors, we'll show here are your financial returns, but more importantly, here are the community benefits."

A Seattle native and former knkx intern, Simone Alicea has returned to the Pacific Northwest from covering breaking news at the Chicago Sun-Times. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.
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