How to Revitalize a Neighborhood Without Gentrifying It: A Conversation With Developer Derek Avery


Derek Avery is a community-conscious real-estate developer based in Dallas, TX, whose work is rooted in the mantra of “revitalization without gentrification.” His company, COIR Holdings, takes a holistic approach to the neighborhoods it works in: not just building affordable homes, but forging relationships and seeking to lift up both the place and the people who already live there.

We hosted Derek for the May 2019 edition of our Ask Strong Towns: Celebrity Edition AMA webcast. Here are the video and audio of his conversation with Strong Towns founder and president Charles Marohn, including taking several viewers’ live questions.

Questions Addressed in the Video

1:00 How’d you get into development?

3:40 Explain revitalization without gentrification. How is this not just a slogan, but a viable third way and something that you live and practice?

09:55 Talk about how you hire people locally, and what it means in a struggling neighborhood to create opportunity for the people who are there.

12:45 Negative perceptions of developers are widespread—“They just go into a poor neighborhood and exploit the people who are there.” How do you combat these perceptions?

15:35 Tell me a bit about your vision for what a revitalized neighborhood is and can be. How is Tulsa’s former Greenwood district an inspiration for you?

19:15 Efforts in early 2000s to expand low-income and minority homeownership backfired with the rise of predatory lending, often through subprime mortgages. How is your vision of building community ownership different from that? Why is it important to do it incrementally?

22:40 How do you identify a good project to pursue?

30:05 How can I find and encourage community developers to revitalize a small town? How do I grow my own Derek Avery in my own community?

34:00 What would you say to leaders in a community looking to make room for someone like you?

36:50 It seems like a lot of times, when a neighborhood is experiencing distress, one of our default responses as public officials is to add more regulation and create higher standards. You laughed at that. Why is that the wrong answer?

42:45 There’s a notion that all developers are rich, connected to rich people, or hucksters of some sort. People don’t understand the financing part, and so development makes them uncomfortable—can you help us understand?

46:55 How do you create positive momentum with development without triggering an increase in property valuations? Is there a sweet spot where you’re empowering people in a neighborhood, but not flooding it without outside investors trying to exploit that home-grown momentum?

51:05 The new federal Opportunity Zones seem to be targeting the kind of neighborhood that would benefit from small-scale development. How do you see that program affecting your work, and is it a positive or negative?

54:30 How does your work fit into the national conversation about race, equity, and righting historical wrongs?

1:00:50 What is your take on the relationship between wealth and power in historically disinvested and disenfranchised communities?

Podcast Audio Version

(Cover photo via Derek Avery / COIR Holdings)