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By: Betsy Wagner
Malik Yoba already beat the odds once: landing a starring role in the cult classic movie “Cool Runnings” without an agent or even a head shot. And now the actor who went on to star in the groundbreaking television series “New York Undercover” wants to break into an industry that may be even tougher than Hollywood: New York City real estate development.
“I used to walk in the burnt up Harlem of the ’80s, and I’d look at brownstones that were dilapidated or apartment buildings, thinking ‘Whoever designed this and built this did not want it to look like this,’” Yoba told Yahoo Finance’s Jen Rogers for My Three Cents. “So, I used to visualize one day being able to contribute and build in Harlem.”
‘An American tragedy’
Having made his first “real money” years ago selling an apartment he owned in Manhattan, he knows that real estate can be a ticket to true wealth. But his move into the role of developer is about much more than just pure profit; it is about Yoba’s mission to break down barriers to opportunity. “Look at this,” Yoba said, pointing to an aerial view of Manhattan. “We can’t point to any area here and say people of color own it. Maybe the Chinese have some of this. But no part of this could we say was developed, designed, built, financed by people that look like me, and that’s an American tragedy.”
The role of a lifetime
Yoba’s interest in real estate is, in many ways, in his blood: His father was on the very first board of directors for a massive Harlem housing complex built in the 1970s. “My father always talked about the 20-year plan for Harlem,” Yoba said. “So it was just always something that was there: One day I’m gonna develop.”
Yoba got his first crack at developing 10 years ago when he invested an undisclosed amount in large urban development project in Baltimore. Residents just moved into the first two apartment buildings last fall. “(It) reminded me of what Harlem was like,” said Yoba. “Baltimore obviously has a lot of problems, but there are people there that have a lot of promise. I got access to the process, and it just grew as a passion.”
Today, Yoba wants to give others access to the process, and so he is letting cameras follow him as he navigates the complex and opaque world of New York City real-estate development. The privately-funded project is called “I Build New York,” a short-form documentary series that will let viewers learn right along with Yoba. It’s a “financial literacy initiative” with a can-do message: “If you tell yourself you can’t, you’re right,” he told Rogers. “But if you’re bold with it and say, ‘I can. I don’t care what the rest of the world says. I know what my God tells me. I know what I have to do. I know I’m purposed to do something amazing.’ And you’re committed to it, and you show up, and you follow up and you’re consistent, things manifest every single time.”
My Three Cents is a weekly interview series that explores celebrities’ history with — and relationship to — money. Find it exclusively on Yahoo Finance.