Return on investment (ROI) of investing in equitable communities
Underserved communities are diverse and occur in rural, island, tribal, urban, and other settings. Lessons learned in one area may be applicable to others; one size does not fit all, but there are potential lessons to be learned from each. Similarly, diversity exists within each community, let alone between communities, and understanding the community where one is working is a foundational first step. Communities are made up of individuals with their own priorities, and grouping them can be problematic or difficult. These resources and talking points provide examples that may be adaptable to a variety of circumstances and aims to provide a base-level understanding about the financial opportunities and benefits of working in equitable communities to help support architects and those they serve.
The Urban Institute suggests using the term “priority communities” to describe communities that “have been historically marginalized, overburdened, and underserved. This includes communities facing persistent poverty, communities burdened by environmental stressors, and communities with high rates of racial and ethnic residential segregation.” The group also recommends asking the community itself to identify its preferred language since there is likely no single term that resonates with all the communities that are being addressed1. Other terms for such communities include the federal government’s description, “disadvantaged communities,” “marginalized communities,” or AIA’s usage, “underserved communities,” “equitable communities.” For the purposes of this research, we have chosen to utilize the terms “equitable communities" and “underserved communities.” The AIA's Guides for Equitable Practice includes a glossary of terms, as does Illume Advising. These may be useful guides and references for this work.
The AIA has developed several excellent guides for developing, creating, and advocating for equitable communities and firm-wide equitable practices, including AIA Guides for Equitable Practice, Architect’s Role in Creating Equitable Communities, Equitable Development Frameworks, and the Framework for Design Excellence: Design for Equitable Communities. The following provides equitable development strategies for architects and others seeking to increase investments in communities and firms.
Literature review completed by University of Washington’s Integrated Design Lab for AIA in 2023.
Community talking points: increasing equity in the built environment
Community investments support social, individual, and economic ecosystems. When equitable, these investments provide direct economic and positive social benefits to communities and their residents. The benefits of investment and resulting returns on investments (ROI) in underserved communities are complex and multifaceted, and go beyond narrow financial terms and timeframes.
Resources for firms seeking to increase equity in the built environment
Working with, and as part of, underserved communities can benefit firms. Supporting a process that enables projects to meet client and community needs, and improving relationships within communities through partnerships and internal business practices, contribute to a market advantage and offer reputational benefits
How to get funding and resources for building equitable communities
The finance and investment landscape is evolving in ways that provide increased opportunities for communities to access capital.