Comedian, entrepreneur, and community activist Tiffany Haddish speaks with Fiona Ma, state treasurer of California, at the 2023 ULI Los Angeles Urban Marketplace. (Kelsi Borland)

At the 2023 ULI Los Angeles Urban Marketplace, entertainer Tiffany Haddish spoke with Fiona Ma, state treasurer of California, about access to capital and resources for diverse developers.

California developers rarely walk an easy road. The state notoriously has some of the most challenging regulatory hurdles—ranging from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) regulations to the arduous entitlement process—but for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) developers, the barriers are even higher. No matter the market, BIPOC developers always seem to be in the middle of a liquidity crunch, with limited access to capital for critical projects in underserved communities. As a result, many would-be deals are stalled at the starting gate.

At the ULI Los Angeles Urban Marketplace 2023 conference, California State Treasurer Fiona Ma sat down with comedian, entrepreneur, and community activist Tiffany Haddish to discuss access to capital and resources for diverse developers. It turns out, the State has programs and consultants on hand to help.

The State Is Committed to Increasing Access

As an entertainer, Tiffany Haddish seemed like an unlikely guest speaker at the ULI event, but behind the scenes, she is a dedicated community advocate and sponsor of community re-investment. Her current project Diaspora Groceries, featured in Forbes, is bringing access to healthy food and financial literacy to South Los Angeles, where Haddish grew up. “You don’t have to move away from where you are from,” she said in the Keynote discussion at the conference. “You can stay there, and contribute to it.” Haddish has learned to navigate the complexities of real estate investment, but said, “It is hard to maneuver.”

The State of California is committed to expanding resources to fund and support development and small businesses, Ma told Haddish, calling access to capital the “biggest challenge” for developers and BIPOC entrepreneurs. The State has a vast number of resources at its disposal to accomplish its goal, including The California Office of Small Business Advocate and The Qualified Residential Rental Project Program, which includes allocation for a BIPOC pool. In addition, California received $1.1 billion from the U.S. Treasury to support small business growth and entrepreneurship. 

Learning Where to Look

Although Ma promoted the state’s resources to support community development and small businesses, she admitted that finding the right help and securing capital isn’t always easy. “We have so many resources at the state level, but unless you go to a website, you aren’t going to know about it,” said Ma. Government officials aren’t good at public relations work, and so often, people just don’t know these resources are available. 

Ma recommends reaching out directly to the Office of Small Business Advocates to find out what programs are the best fit. The office has free consultants and advisors that can give ideas momentum and connect entrepreneurs to the right capital sources to give projects a real opportunity.

Capital was a serious problem for Haddish, who, in her own efforts, reached out to traditional lending sources like a bank, to fund real estate projects or secure business capital. Banks, according to Ma, are risk adverse, and most won’t look beyond traditional underwriting metrics. “You have to look for the institutions that want to service your type of project,” she explained. “You have to find the bankers that want to be in your business.” That is why it is critical to leverage the state-funded consultants, who can make the right connections.

For Ma, supporting BIPOC developers and underserved communities is personal. “I am the daughter of immigrant parents, and I understand how hard it is for people to break in. We need to figure out ways to connect and help each other,” she said. To pursue community growth and spur development, advocates need capital first and foremost. To find it, Ma said, “My office is available.”