When we say, “Buy the Block,” Chris Senegal takes it quite literally. At only 36, this Southern University grad has acquired two entire blocks in a historically Black neighborhood in Houston. The first is now a $3.9M 14 townhome development focused on bringing successful black professionals back to the neighborhood. The second is a $1.3M package of 18 homes, 2 commercial buildings and roughly $700,000 of investment through crowdfunding to protect long term, fixed income residents from displacement. Gentrification threatens the existence of Black people in American cities but Chris, rather than fear it, is executing the blueprint for how Black people can buy back and control their own neighborhoods. Black neighborhoods are a national treasure and Senegal sees the value in them: this young real estate pro is actually buying blocks.
White supremacy will rule for another 100 years, if Black people are erased from cities. Cities are the centers of government, commerce, transportation and most other infrastructure: to control them is to control society. Black people must fight to maintain a stronghold in the city and rather than debate the matter, Chris is doing the work. In 2013 he bought up a block that few wanted to live on– drugs and blight were the prevailing norm. He was turned down by 23 lenders before he received funding. Chris worked equally hard on educating young Black professionals as he did securing financing for redevelopment. If Black people prioritized moving into their communities, buying homes and raising the standard, the amenities would follow and so would rising property values. Rather than look for the suburbs, Chris made it cool to move back to the hood, before it gentrified and prices were out of reach. It’s working in Houston and it can work elsewhere, too.
Chris used a creative approach to buy the package of rental properties, located just blocks from the new homes he previously developed. No banks are involved. Instead, he used crowdfunding to allow everyday people to invest as little as $250 to own a piece of this real estate portfolio. The area is in Houston’s 5th Ward, at one time Houston’s “Black Wall Street.” Here, Black lawyers, doctors, grocery stores and financial institutions were once the norm. The deal Chris closed included 20 properties total, most filled with tenants who’d lived there for decades: Black tenants. Rather than instantly raise rents, understanding that property values would rise, Chris was happy to keep those tenants in place. The revolutionary act of simply buying property in Houston’s historic “Black Wall Street,” before anyone else wanted to, positioned Chris to keep Black families in their neighborhood, while continuing to improve it. On the other hand, having stable tenants provided Chris with steady cash flow from day one, while the commercial buildings he acquired would provide additional cash flow, after renovations.
The success Chris has had in Houston is rooted in his drive to educate Black people on the value of their neighborhoods. Rather than seek overpriced neighborhoods, where property values are already high, Chris motivated young Black professionals to buy in their own communities and it’s been lucrative. Only in neighborhoods targeted for gentrification, after all, can families buy homes and within a year gain in excess of $10,000 in equity. The blueprint is simple and Chris is executing it. It’s working in Houston and two more cities are next up. For information on the 5th Ward crowdfund, which is open to investors until June 30, visit buytheblock.com.