Successful Strategies to Lift Neighborhoods Out of Poverty Must Put Affordable Homes at their Center

November 14, 2018- SAHF members are committed to creating the kinds of homes where all people can flourish. This means that in addition to building quality apartments, they also invest in communities and can serve as key actors in place-based comprehensive community revitalization efforts. Preservation of Affordable Housing’s (POAH) recent Reader’s Choice Award recognizes the critical role that quality housing and community engagement play in neighborhood transformation.

In 2011, POAH received HUD’s first-ever Choice Neighborhoods grant in order to undertake a comprehensive and integrated development and revitalization plan in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood. Seven years later, building on an extensive and inclusive community-led engagement and planning process, residents of Woodlawn are seeing their plan become a reality.  POAH’s investment began with replacing a distressed and obsolete building, which spurred further investment in additional affordable housing, parks, retail, recreation and educational opportunities. They have also created Renew Woodlawn, a partnership with Neighborhood Housing Services that identifies prospective home buyers and provides them with funds for renovations and a discounted purchase price for existing neighborhood homes, and created more than 600 new affordable and market-rate rental opportunities. One of their senior properties is home to the Woodlawn Resource Center, an 8,000 square foot community center that offers free social service support and employment/workforce development opportunities for the entire community. In June, POAH opened Woodlawn Station, a mixed-income rental community that provides 70 homes to residents earning as low as 20% of the area median income. Woodlawn Station is the latest POAH investment to fulfill elements of the neighborhood’s revitalization plan.

POAH’s investments in the historically-neglected neighborhood has also encouraged others to invest: in the spring of 2015, a nationally renowned organization that combines sports, tutoring and mentoring opened its first free-standing facility in Woodlawn; the University of Chicago is creating a new Logan Arts Center and Woodlawn Charter School; and in early 2019, the neighborhood will get its first high quality fresh food grocery store. Unlike many revitalization initiatives that gentrify neighborhoods and put residents at risk of displacement, POAH’s significant investment in affordable homes means that the residents of Woodlawn will be able to remain in their community and take advantage of the new opportunities the neighborhood offers.

POAH’s work in Woodlawn reinforces two key lessons we have learned through our members’ experiences in comprehensive neighborhood revitalization. First, successful strategies to lift neighborhoods out of poverty must put quality, affordable homes at their centers if they are to achieve their intended outcomes; high-capacity, mission-driven housing providers serve as fantastic partners in this work. Second, multifamily housing properties serve much more than their residents—they are assets to entire communities. Our members’ properties are more than homes. They are community spaces, health clinics, food banks, polling stations, and daycares that help all members of a community thrive.

Congratulations to POAH for their important work in Woodlawn and on their award.

-Andrea Ponsor, COO and Executive Vice President, Policy