YIMBY Interviews The Leaders Of EPIC Opportunity Zone Fund

Kelly (left) - Rachel (right) courtesy of EPIC Opportunity Zone Fund

Chicago YIMBY had the opportunity to sit with the leaders of the new EPIC Opportunity Zone late last year in an effort to familiarize locals with the local development landscape. Their team is involved in multiple projects across the South Side, targeting $180 million in commitments for developments in Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Detroit, parts of Arizona and Nevada, and other emerging economies.

The fully women-led team is composed of Kelly Ann Winget of Alternative Wealth Partners and Rachel Vass of Syzygy Cities, who are also involved in The Grove Bronzeville. With their diverse experience, they’ve created EPIC, which stands for Energy, P3 Real Estate, Infrastructure, and Community to take advantage of federally established opportunity zones.

Rendering of The Grove Bronzeville by Krueck Sexton Partners

Opportunity Zones (OZ) were officially established in 2018 in collaboration with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). According to HUD, OZs are economically distressed communities defined by census tracts, nominated by governors, and certified by the Treasury. The zones allow for developments to receive preferential tax treatment.

Map of opportunity zones via City of Chicago

These historically low-income and disinvested community zones are meant to foster both private and public investments within them. Currently, there are over 8,700 opportunity zones across the nation and its territories.

Below is our interview with Rachel and Kelly:

YIMBY: What is your objective with the EPIC fund?

EPIC: We aim to flip the script on revitalization. Our mission is to make housing affordable vs just building affordable housing. We are the only OZ fund that mandates its investments be spread across multiple asset types, including retail, housing, manufacturing, and more. This allows our projects to remain viable during economic changes and meet community needs while creating a localized economy.

We will always co-develop as we want locals to have an input in their communities, including its diverse developers, and show that there is money to be made in these areas as much as in established markets.

YIMBY: Why launch in Chicago first?

EPIC: Chicago was the perfect Cinderella story for us, we had resilient neighborhoods in one of the most segregated cities in America, and if we could make a model here, we could prove it would work in other places. We also had a willing community and co-developers ready to work with us.

Chicago was also the first place we had experience in – Rachel spent four years working with developers like 548 and Millhouse on Invest South/West and won the South Chicago RFP.

Map of opportunity zones via City of Chicago

YIMBY: Chicago has 135 OZ’s, why are you focusing on Bronzeville?

EPIC: Developers often overlook diverse investors and projects, missing major obvious opportunities like Bronzeville. There is demand here for what we’re doing, which aligns with the gaps we’re looking to fill. For example, Bronzeville has a major retail dollar leakage of $250 million annually.

In comparison, a dollar passes through five hands in Bronzeville before leaving the neighborhood vs. 20 hands in Brooklyn, so how can we capture that to build community wealth?

YIMBY: What makes EPIC unique?

EPIC: We want to invest in the whole picture, not only the property but also in the businesses that will drive foot traffic and create jobs. All while working with local nonprofits to upskill the community to take these jobs and keep people in their homes long-term.

We also want to invest in infrastructure along with property to build these areas up and give all of these the best chance of success. We approach our investment strategy knowing not all returns will be massive, but give investors a diversified form of return with short and long-term gains.

YIMBY: What strategies are you exploring to support businesses?

EPIC: One of our core strategies is how to scale back-of-house operations to support our businesses and lower their costs. We are in talks with a local company that is developing a tool that will pull information from our retailers, grocers, etc, to create large singular supply orders to help drive down cost and logistical issues through aggregate buying power.

Another strategy includes putting the power, literally, back in the hands of these communities by transforming our developments into massive power banks for the city. Reducing the utilities costs for the tenants of our buildings and generating excess energy to give/sell back to the community and surrounding economies.

Map of opportunity zones via City of Chicago

YIMBY: How do you select your investments?

EPIC: Since our goal is to create Intermarket stimulation or “interfication”, we’re looking in urban and rural disinvested areas to provide economic support to each other, creating a more efficient system with less waste. We’re also looking at emerging minority and women-owned businesses, as well as some more established ones to bring their knowledge to the talent pool. We are approaching this from a holistic, horizontal perspective – how can each investment work together to lift each other and increase the overall return and impact?

YIMBY: What is your next project if you can share?

EPIC: We cannot at the moment, but keep a look out for announcements soon. We have multiple manufacturing and energy deals in Texas and Arizona, while we’re building out pipelines in Detroit and Philadelphia. We want investors to know that our hurdle isn’t deal flow, these alpha-generating opportunities are everywhere when you start looking at diverse, emerging leaders who want to work with other diverse, emerging leaders.

It is worth noting that EPIC is not the only opportunity zone fund in the city, but it is bringing a unique approach to investments in these areas. Opportunity Zones have also received criticism in the past.

YIMBY would like to thank both Rachel and Kelly for their time and collaboration.

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1 Comment on "YIMBY Interviews The Leaders Of EPIC Opportunity Zone Fund"

  1. Great interview! Would love to see more of this kind of thing here.

    Loved this quote: “ Our mission is to make housing affordable vs just building affordable housing.”

    With quality and architectural beauty is the only thing I’d add.

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