$20M in grants target minority-owned businesses, nonprofits

Minority-owned Houston businesses and nonprofits will soon have a chance at tens of millions of dollars in grants through a city-run program aimed at social justice initiatives.

The Houston Fund for Social Justice and Economic Equity said Tuesday that it will begin taking applications beginning Aug. 9, hoping to provide grants of $10,000 to $65,000 to hundreds of businesses.

Created in 2021, in part as a response to the May 2020 murder of Houston native George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the global protests that followed, the fund was bolstered by a $20 million donation last year from Wells Fargo. That money will become available to applicants next month and can be used to buy assets such as equipment and property.

Related: Donations soared after George Floyd’s murder — so why can’t many groups find funding?

Mayor Sylvester Turner said the grants would help minority-owned businesses, which account for about 35 percent of small businesses in the region. Such businesses were hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Roughly 41 percent of Black businesses closed during the first months of the pandemic, the highest rate of any racial or ethnic group, according to a 2020 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

On HoustonChronicle.com: Hurricanes. Pandemics. Overwhelming needs. Nonprofits struggle to hold onto workers.

Because of that, Black-owned businesses also were far more likely to use personal funds to stay afloat during the pandemic, another Fed study found, and were five times more likely than white business owners to say they were denied loans under the Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP was enacted during the pandemic and aimed at providing loans to small businesses to help them keep their employees. Last year, H&R Block conducted surveys that found about 53 percent of Black business owners lost at least half of their revenue since the beginning of the pandemic, compared to 37 percent of white business owners.

Nonprofits devoted to racial justice and equity have faced similar economic headwinds. While some area charities received large increases after Floyd’s murder, many have struggled to maintain those funding levels in the time since – and as overall conations to racial justice plummeted. In the month after Floyd’s killing, for example, corporate donations to social justice causes surged to 51 percent of all charitable contributions in the month after Floyd’s death, according to Benevity, a Canadian company that monitors corporate giving.

They fell to just 5 percent by the end of 2020, Benevity foundd. 

Related: New grants offered for nonprofits that work with formerly incarcerated

By making funding also available to nonprofits, Turned said, the Houston Fund also seeks to address community needs.

Fund leaders warned Tuesday that the application process would be competitive. They noted that they recently received nearly 18,000 applications for another round of funding for only 100 businesses.

“This is indeed a competition — let’s not make any mistake about it,” said Thomas Jones, the fund’s board president. “We’d love to be able to say we can accommodate anyone, but we can’t.”

To apply, the business or nonprofit must be in the Houston-area, have 50 or fewer employees, be led by people of color and have been established by Dec. 31, 2021. Applications must be submitted from Aug. 9-23 through the electronic portal at www.houstonequityfund.com.

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