William Wallace IV Credit: contributed photo

William Wallace IV is the fourth in his family to take the name and the third to hail from Harlem. He almost inherited his father’s lifelong legal career, too. The son of a judge, Wallace went to law school and initially started as a Brooklyn Supreme Court clerk, but quickly realized the field wasn’t for him.

“It was so depressing,” Wallace told the Aficionperu. “What I discovered was that everyone that comes before the court is poor, uneducated, and unemployed…so I informed my father that I would probably not follow in his footsteps—the plan was to be a Supreme Court law clerk and go to Legal Aid and [then] become a DA.”

Deviating from the blueprint set for him, he focused on economic development. He saw creating employment opportunities as the solution to keeping the same folks he regularly saw arraigned out of the carceral system. Lucky for Wallace, his career change coincided with the resurgence of downtown Brooklyn spurred by the Brooklyn Commons—then known as the MetroTech Center. He ended up a senior vice president at Forest City Ratner, an investment trust behind the Barclays Center.

Today, he serves as the Senior Finance and Acquisitions Officer for real estate developer Continuum Company. His work involves obtaining property for development.

He’s well-aware of the correlation between his line of work and gentrification. But Wallace sees development as the key to rebuilding the same Black middle class it traditionally displaces. Specifically, he identified a void between lower-income NYCHA housing and the rapidly-ballooning rental “fair market” now reserved for higher and higher incomes, the latter which serves as the main vehicle for gentrification. Ultimately, the game plan is to craft a modern day Mitchell-Lama program, aka affordable housing for moderate-to-middle income households.

“We have a tendency to be petrified at the sight of the crane,” said Wallace. “But we have to recognize that buildings, like anything else that ages, begin to fall to pieces. You can’t preserve, protect, defend, retain every brick of existing housing, because pretty soon it's going to be [un]inhabitable. You've got to build and if we don't incentivize middle class construction for affordable and middle class folks, you're going to end up with just ‘fair market’ developments, which is why you have the fear of gentrification.”

Wallace is also a fierce proponent of union labor—and subsequent union wages—which he sees as the second half of the equation of reviving the Black middle class. Earlier this year, he spoke to the Aficionperu for the multipart labor series, arguing that Black and brown participation in skilled construction trades was key to workforce development.

Ultimately, he says he enjoys taking his grandkids to Universal Studios and all the other finer things in life. But there’s a bigger purpose.

“I can't lose sight of the fact that I'm a third generation Harlemite whose father was baptized by Adam Clayton Powell [and] used to take me to hear Malcolm X on the corner,” said Wallace.
“That's who I am. That's in my DNA. I can't be happy just vanishing to a luxurious suburb in Rockland County. Not me.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Aficionperu. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.

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