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Social Capitalists: Civic Builders

43 entrepreneurs who are changing the world
Social Capitalist 2008 Winner

Civic Builders

David Umansky, CEO
New York, New York
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“As we continue to create new educational opportunities for New York City families, one of our biggest challenges is identifying and securing space to house new schools.” —New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein on September 22, 2004.

Civic Builders seeks to create an environment where great charter school operators can thrive. It supports the charter school movement by taking on one of the largest obstacles to charter school success: real estate. As a non-profit facilities developer, Civic provides high quality charter schools with modern low-cost facilities. By relieving charter schools of the burden of navigating an extremely complex and competitive real estate marketplace, Civic enables school administrators to focus time and resources on the important work of educating children.

Civic works towards the day that equal educational opportunities exist for all New York City school children. For many in underserved communities, charter schools play a critical role in pioneering educational innovations and ensuring that children receive the levels of quality instruction, attention, and resources they deserve. Civic’s work supports individual charter school success, and its development strategies positively influence larger educational reform efforts.


The New York City real estate market is complex and competitive, and school administrators are typically unprepared to deal with its wide-ranging trials. Civic staff, with backgrounds in the real estate and financial services sectors, brings efficiency and cost savings to facilities planning and development. With capital from a variety of sources, including private philanthropy, the New York City Department of Education, commercial lenders, community development lenders, and other city, state and federal government subsidies, Civic offers schools affordable facilities at rents well below market. Civic Builders has two development models – projects that are supported by our partnership with the NYC DOE and projects that are independent, bilateral arrangements with particular charter schools. We have devised this dual approach to ensure that we can maximize available public and private support for new charter facilities while remaining true to our core operating principles: in both models, we aim to provide truly turnkey solutions and affordable occupancy costs for the charter school tenant.


To date, Civic has developed (or is in development on) six school facilities totaling $161 million and encompassing nearly 300,000 square feet. In addition to accessing over $150 million in NYC Department of Education capital funds, Civic has raised approximately $15 million in philanthropy from foundations and individuals for investment in charter school facilities. Civic’s facilities serve approximately 3,000 students in high-need communities such as Harlem, Bronx and Bedford Stuyvesant.

In addition to putting three to four new projects into development, serving an additional 2,000 students, each year, Civic Builders is also exploring expanding the geography of its services into real estate markets such as Newark, New Jersey and New Haven, Connecticut, where charter support is strong and consistent. Working together with the community, city and state government, and the best charter school operators, Civic will continue to find facilities solutions for charter schools so great educators can focus on the bottom line: education.