icon Blueprint for July

The Social Engine

3 min read

In addition to CEO and president of Family Scholar House, Cathe Dykstra’s title includes Chief Possibility Officer. That’s a unique and optimistic label for the leader of an effort that focuses on the essential link between housing and education. In Doug Koch’s story about Social Impact investing in this issue, Cathe says, “We are not a housing program. We are an educational program with a housing component.”

Jacqueline Mondros, the dean of the School of Social Health at Stony Brook University, with whom I work closely on aging in place initiatives, often says, “It all begins with housing. If you have good housing, you can focus on everything else.”

Housing is not just four walls within which you sleep, eat and store your belongings. It is the social engine that drives day-to-day life. The heart that revs up all other systems. The greatest enabler.

In this issue, many of our stories touch upon the social impact of affordable housing, its reach beyond its walls, how it can affect education, the functionality of neighborhoods, an overall better life for residents.

As we have reported, there is widespread enthusiasm for the Opportunity Zones program. But it also raises a legitimate and difficult question: Are we better off as a society trying to reinvigorate indigent neighborhoods or providing low-income families homes in vibrant neighborhoods with good schools, jobs, services? Our guru, David A. Smith wrestles with this conundrum in a unique conversation between, well, people and places. (The Guru Is In)

Coincidentally, we recently discovered two developers who specifically selected neighborhoods for affordable housing projects due to the accessibility of strong school systems. The Vantage Group added affordable housing in the small, wealthy town of Warner Robbins, GA that is known for its quality schools and Vitus renovated the La Playa apartments in an area of Baton Rouge, LA that boasts three of the top five school districts in the state. We assigned this story to staff writer Mark Olshaker who, as the son of a public school teacher, would be most appreciative of these efforts. (A Good School Up the Block)

We are seeing local housing finance agencies encouraging the inclusion of retail space in affordable housing buildings via awarding points in their FAQs. Street front retail adds foot traffic and energy to a neighborhood, but it may not be the easiest space to fill or keep filled. In this month’s Housing USA column, Scott Beyer looks at the pros and cons of requiring retail.

And, four years after first introducing Social Impact investing to our readership, Dough Koch looks at a growing trend towards using these dollars to upgrade resident services by focusing on two examples—the aforementioned Family Scholar House that provides educational programs and advocacy services and Enterprise’s Multifamily

Opportunity Fund that supports preservation of affordable and workforce housing ailing for a triple bottom line of environmental, social and economic returns. (The Trend Towards Residence Services)

Each of these programs has its complexities and even some self-contradictions—but combined they make us proud to work in a field that stays focused on social impact.

Marty Bell, Editor