Raza Development Fund Launches J. Tommy Espinoza Fellowship, a Component of Wells Fargo Foundation Growing Diverse Housing Developers Program

Raza Development Fund Launches J. Tommy Espinoza Fellowship, a Component of Wells Fargo Foundation Growing Diverse Housing Developers Program

PHOENIX, AZ. – Raza Development Fund (RDF) is proud to launch the J. Tommy Espinoza Fellowship, a signature component of Wells Fargo Foundation’s Growing Diverse Housing Developers program.

The fellowship, named in honor of RDF’s founding President & CEO, will support the growth and development of housing developers of color while ultimately strengthening the affordable housing development ecosystem.

“We not only wanted to honor Tommy’s life-long commitment and impact to community development and affordable housing in poor and Latino communities, as importantly we wanted to honor Tommy’s legacy as a selfless mentor, visionary trailblazer, and fearless torchbearer of hope,” said Melissa McDonald, RDF’s Chief Operating Officer.

Thanks to a $10 million grant from Wells Fargo, RDF created the fellowship in direct response to increase opportunities for Black and Latino-led housing developers.

“We want to increase racial equity in real estate development, ultimately creating a more inclusive housing ecosystem,” said Bill Daley, vice chairman of Public Affairs at Wells Fargo. “One stark reality is that people of color are significantly underfunded and underrepresented in the real estate industry. Through Growing Diverse Housing Developers, we can help strengthen diverse housing developers, enabling them to grow their businesses, and at the same time, offer communities more affordable options for renters and homeowners.”

In partnership with the Council of Development Finance Agencies (CDFA), the J. Tommy Espinoza Fellowship is comprised of 12 housing developers of color across the country with a variety of experience in non-profit and for-profit affordable multifamily rental housing and for-sale housing development, some of which are UnidosUS Affiliates.

RDF and CDFA are proud to welcome the following fellows into the first cohort:

Ernesto Fonseca, The Elemental Group – Phoenix, Arizona

Palmira Ramirez, Comite de Bien Estar – San Luis, Arizona

Arnulfo Manriquez, MAAC Project – Chula Vista, California

Aubra Levine, Unity Council – Oakland, California

Fred Sotelo, ValCom Development – Santa Fe Springs, California

Omar Carrera, Canal Alliance – San Rafael, California

Gregorio “Goyo” Ortiz, Casa Familiar – San Yisdro, California

Justin Llata, Visionary Home Builders – Stockton, California

Darren Smith, Smith & Henry  – Delray Beach, Florida

Jeffery Bridges, Opa-Locka CDC – Miami, Florida

Alyssa Flores, Madhouse Development – Austin, Texas

Julissa Carielo, DreamOn Group  – San Antonio, Texas

Throughout the program, each fellow will complete an affordable housing project with an average assumed project size of 50 units. RDF will provide funds from the Wells Fargo grant to support these projects supporting the growth of the participant’s organizations, which may otherwise lack the capacity to finance projects independently. Each fellow will be paired with an RDF mentor to provide guidance and advice to support the organization’s operational growth on matters including developing realistic and achievable growth plans, assessing investment capital constraints, engaging community stakeholders, raising equity capital and developing and/or expanding sustainable property operations and management capacity.

“I have known of Raza Development Fund for over 20 years and the loans they have issued to move projects forward.  What’s been most impressive are the loans that no one else wanted to take a risk on but after I shared the story of why, they stepped up with the loans. I have seen them take the extra step to build capacity, provide technical assistance, and lift their partners. This Growing Diverse Housing Developers fellowship is a clear example of why they stand out for organizations like (Metropolitan Area Advisory Committee on Anti-Poverty) MAAC,” shared Arnulfo Manriquez, President & CEO for MAAC and a J. Tommy Espinoza Fellow.

The cohort will also convene for affordable housing-centric, professional development learning sessions tailor-designed by RDF and CDFA.

“CDFA is proud and honored to partner with Raza Development Fund to provide training and networking opportunities for the J. Tommy Espinoza Growing Diverse Housing Developers Fellowship Program,” states Toby Rittner, DFCP and President & CEO of CDFA. “We are excited to support the leaders in the development finance industry who are stepping up to address the challenge of affordable housing.”

The first cohort officially kicked off with a virtual launch party Friday, May 20, 2022. The fellows and RDF team look forward to the impactful journey ahead with this program.

“I’m a better person and professional because of how closely I’ve worked with Tom over the last 12 years. His authentic and caring commitment to community development is an inspiration.  He’s a man of faith and purpose – one of the most genuine, others-focused business leaders I’ve ever known.  I’m especially grateful for the opportunity to have a leadership role working directly with our GDHD fellows to continue his and RDF’s mission to create sustainable affordable housing solutions for poor families and children” said David Clower, RDF’s Chief Investment Officer.



About Raza Development Fund

Founded in 1999 as a support corporation of UnidosUS, previously known as National Council of la Raza (NCLR), RDF provides access to capital and financing solutions to non-profits, UnidosUS affiliates, and other Latino serving organizations across the country with the mission of breaking the cycle of poverty in low-income communities. Since its inception, RDF has provided organizations serving Latino and poor families in 38 states with technical assistance and financings in excess of $1 billion, which have leveraged over $5 billion in private and public capital for education, childcare, affordable housing, social services projects and, most recently, small businesses. Headquartered in Phoenix, AZ, RDF lends nationwide and has offices in Seattle, WA, Texas, Florida and New York City, NY. www.razafund.org


View Wells Fargo’s press release.