By Brett Hoover
So, I thought I was onto something new. Two years ago a manufacturer that had been doing business in a six-story building in my neighborhood for 100 years announced it was moving out of the city to a neighboring town where it could have a modernized single-floor operation.
While I was reading the story I was already daydreaming about that facility becoming “Promise Village,” a vibrant place where our young professionals could return to their hometown and live in lower-than-market studio apartments, supported by one another while launching their careers and giving back to their city.
As it turned out, I wasn’t discovering fire. Yet I was happy to see that other places found it to be a good idea.
The manufacturer was almost completely moved out when my alderman led a community tour of the massive plant in June. This fall it was purchased by a developer, who held a neighborhood meeting about his acquisition earlier this week. When it became clear that the facility was going to become housing units, some folks complained about traffic and others spoke out against affordable housing.
I decided to speak up about my idea for the facility. One of the reporters at the meeting offered that I “urged [my] neighbors to think more broadly about the issue of affordable housing.” I told them that we live in a city that has high rent and little vacancy. Our Promise scholars who graduate from college — and we have more than 500 presently enrolled — want to return to the city, but find themselves priced out of launching their career on their own in their hometown, where they’d be able to immediately influence younger members of their families. I told the developer that I’d love to see a place for them, even if the apartments were small studios.
Smaller apartments with more common space is trend. In fact, a place called Commonspace is doing just that in downtown Syracuse. Co-founder John Talarico told CityLab, “If your normal rent is $1,500, we’re coming in way under that ($700 to $900). You can spend that money elsewhere, living, not just sustaining.”
The notion of creating affordable housing in the name of education is not new either. The Newark Teachers’ Village in New Jersey is a national model to attract and retain teachers. Just recently, the City of San Francisco announced efforts to do the same in the Bay Area, where teacher retention is a significant problem. Even rural Hertford County in North Carolina is making space for teachers.
Companies like Google and LinkedIn have also decided that entering the real estate game is simply good for business. Unaffordable housing has a way of contributing to longer commutes and traffic congestion that is bad for the environment. And business productivity suffers.
Googlers in Pittsburgh have taken up residence in the Bakery Square neighborhood and helped change the environment. In a rather snarky portrayal in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last December, reporters Mackenzie Carpenter and Deborah M. Todd wrote this:
“Google definitely ups the coolness factor,” said Ryan Teeder, 25, who was sipping a craft beer at one of Social’s outdoor tables on a warm August evening. He had actually come to pick up his 14-year-old brother Ross, who had spent the afternoon at TechShop. “I live in White Oak, but when I come here, I feel like I’m in Brooklyn or some other really cool place where all the action is.”
Perhaps against the wishes of some of my neighbors, I want my neighborhood to be that really cool place where all the action is.
Brett Hoover — who formerly served as the Associate Director of the Ivy League — is a co-founder of Cities of Promise and serves as a digital strategist and Education Pioneers fellow at New Haven Promise.