Re-Building Underserved Communities While Building a Future

September 14, 2022

Ja’Shar Hartley’s dreams of helping his community started in his childhood: His grandfather, a property owner and landlord in the South Side of Chicago, taught him the importance of giving back. “I'd seen a man who looked like me have property and be able to not only provide housing, but provide jobs,” the proud husband and father of two said. “It made me aware that it's possible.”

Programs like the Open Access Fellowship, presented by Project REAP (Real Estate Associate Program) and sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co., are working to expand opportunities for Black, Hispanic and Latino professionals in community development finance. 

When he learned about the Open Access fellowship, Ja’Shar, who is a real estate investor, realized that it was an outstanding opportunity to explore the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) industry, which he describes as “a very niche space in commercial real estate that promotes private investment in low-income community development by providing government incentives to real-estate sponsors.”

Ja’Shar wanted to take full advantage, so he applied and was soon accepted to Open Access’s inaugural class. As part of the initiative, he received an NMTC fellowship at Cinnaire, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that helps develop and rehabilitate residential and commercial housing in low-income and rural neighborhoods. He impressed his supervisors, including Peter Giles, a Cinnaire executive who helped him build the kind of business relationships that could lead to a full-time job in the industry. “Ja’Shar had a real, strong desire to be a part of changing his community,” Peter said. “The balance of capacity and desire enabled him to fit right in and to excel.”

Ja’Shar also worked with Development Asset Manager Josh White, who became his mentor and taught him how to develop financial projections, run a building and determine how much debt a building can withstand. Josh encouraged him to apply for a full-time role. “I wanted to get him into the ecosystem so he could learn faster,” said Josh, who recognized Ja’Shar’s entrepreneurial spirit, a trait he says Cinnaire seeks in its employees.

Ja’Shar was hired to Cinnaire’s asset management team, turning his three-month fellowship into a full-time Financial Analyst position.

“A lot of my journey was recreating myself to acquire the right skills and positioning to be able to enter into this profession,” Ja’Shar explained. “To have this opportunity come to fruition was an amazing feeling.” 

Ja’Shar continues to break barriers in commercial real estate, with a clear purpose: “For me, it's never been just about empowering my family,” he said. “It’s also about how we can lift up everybody that we touch, somehow, in addition to the communities we are actively invested in.”

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