Empowering Communities Through Collective Real Estate Ownership
At the end of every month, after paying rent, utility bills, childcare, or other necessities, imagine having just a little cash left over for something special—maybe a family pizza party or an extra student loan payment.
This is the reality for many families in Oregon for whom long-term wealth building feels entirely out of reach.
Now, imagine being invited to invest that spare cash in a commercial property in your neighborhood. Would you consider it?
A project in Southeast Portland shows that real estate ownership and wealth creation is within reach for more Oregonians, especially those historically left out of such investment opportunities.
Plaza 122 is a 29,000-square-foot commercial property operated by the Community Investment Trust (CIT). Born out of Mercy Corps, CIT offers an opportunity for community members to own property collectively. With monthly investments ranging from as little as $10 to $100, residents from four surrounding zip codes can invest in Plaza 122, shaping their community’s future while gaining valuable insights into financial planning and wealth creation.
“I feel like having wealth where you can pass it down to your kids and your kids’ kids is a dream that in the past was never achievable. Before it was just a thought process of getting enough money to survive. And now it’s like, no, we have the opportunity to build wealth, and this is how you do it,” says Jennifer Hardnett, an investor, CIT training facilitator and board president. “I think the Community Investment Trust and its curriculum has opened my eyes to really see that wealth is achievable.”
Over the last five years, Plaza 122 has proven its strength, adding more than 300 individual neighborhood investors. More than 60% of the community investors are women, Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), low-income and first-time investors. Resources and education for potential Plaza 122 shareholders are offered in Arabic, Vietnamese, Russian, Spanish and English.
The CIT model, the first of its kind in the nation, not only provides both annual and long-term returns on investment but also fosters civic engagement.
The property accommodates up to 30 tenants consisting of diverse small businesses and social service nonprofit organizations. CIT investors favor supporting and shopping with these tenants due to their ownership stake in the property. CIT is working toward establishing a vibrant food cart pod and community space at Plaza 122 to increase investor revenue and small-business opportunities.
“As a long-term wealth-building tool utilized by majority first-time investors, the CIT is an on-ramp for building financial resiliency for community members. In the five years since the launch of the East Portland CIT over $75,000 of dividends have been distributed to the neighborhood investors,” notes CIT Director of Operations Sven Gatchev.
Investments in CIT come with a minimum guaranteed return of 2%. Impressively, the average annual return has stood at 7.9%, and share prices have risen from $10 to $19.02 in five years. Real estate ownership can be risky. However, Plaza 122 ensures that direct investments are secure, thanks to a direct pay letter of credit that CIT was able to obtain from a bank.
“The direct pay letter of credit is a complicated term, but what it achieves is twofold,” Gatchev explains. “It provides liquidity and thus the ability for investors to cash out their investment at any time and it protects the full value of the invested funds from the community investors from decline or loss.”
But can this investment model truly transform lives?
By participating, individuals gain the confidence to venture into other investment opportunities and achieve financial goals that previously seemed unattainable. As a first step, investors complete a financial education course: Moving from Owing to Owning. After realizing gains from their ownership, many investors choose to remain invested, while others sell shares to start businesses, pay for higher education or make down payments.
The CIT is undertaking feasibility studies with eight cities across the United States in hopes of duplicating its model and also plans to extend its wealth-building resources to a broader spectrum of Oregon residents.
Since CIT’s inception in 2017, Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) has championed this model through grant support and mission-aligned loans from OCF’s Oregon Impact Fund—a $30 million fund that provides catalytic growth capital to Oregon-based nonprofit and for-profit ventures, funds and intermediaries.
OCF supports models that advance economic vitality in Oregon, promote equitable wealth distribution and cultivate sustainable impact across generations.