By Carol Naughton, Senior Vice President, Purpose Built Communities
For part one of the Purpose Built Community story, the history of East Lake, visit here.
In 1995, East Lake Meadows was a community that consisted of 100 percent extremely low-income residents, distressed public housing, and a crime rate 18 times the national average. The community was poor (just 13 percent employment), under educated (just 5 percent of fifth graders met state math standards) and dangerous (90 percent of families were victims of a felony yearly).
In East Lake, community groups partnered with one another and local government to focus on health and everything that affects health (jobs, infrastructure, housing, education, transportation, etc.). Now, the outcomes are very different. All of the adults in the Villages of East Lake work unless they are elderly or disabled. In 2013, 99 percent of the third through eighth-grade students in the neighborhood’s Charles R. Drew Charter School passed the state assessment in reading, and 98 percent did so in math. The crime rate in East Lake is also dramatically lower, with a crime rate that is fifty percent of the average crime rate of the city of Atlanta.
The East Lake neighborhood has come a long way since the days when residents called it “Little Vietnam” because it felt like a war zone. Over the last decade, thousands of people have visited East Lake to learn about the strategies used and see if they could replicate the outcomes in their own community. Purpose Built Communities was created by the founders of the East Lake Foundation to help other civic and business leaders to do precisely that – apply the model to create opportunities for families in struggling neighborhoods to break the cycle of poverty. Of course, replication isn’t cookie cutter, but the same principles apply. “Anyone could take this idea and make it work in any community. The model is there and the barrier has been broken.” – Former U.N. Ambassador and Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young
The Purpose Built model is a deep dive into a clearly-defined, narrowly-tailored geographic area – a neighborhood. Within that neighborhood, over a ten-year period, distressed low-income rental housing is replaced with high-quality mixed-income housing; a cradle-through-college education pipeline is created to serve the neighborhood; and wellness and health-related facilities and programs are implemented so that everyone in the neighborhood can be healthy, in the fullest sense of the term.
These strategies are executed by many partners under the direction of a newly-created nonprofit organization – modeled on the East Lake Foundation – whose sole reason for existence is to make sure that the revitalization model is fully realized at very high standards. The new nonprofit, called a “lead organization” doesn’t necessarily deliver programs itself, but serves as the quarterback of the initiative. The lead organization is the secret sauce in the Purpose Built Model.
Currently, Purpose Built Communities supports local leaders in eight cities who are already replicating this model, and is in discussions with leaders in 20 additional cities. Among those cities where work is already underway:
In New Orleans, the Bayou District Foundation is leading the revitalization of the former St. Bernard public housing community. Partners include neighborhood leaders and residents, the Housing Authority of New Orleans, Columbia Residential, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the YMCA, Orleans Parish Schools, the Recovery School District and others. Louisiana State University is operating a health center in the neighborhood and an edible school yard project is underway.
In Indianapolis, the Meadows Community Foundation and Strategic Capital Partners are leading the revitalization of the Meadows neighborhood. Partners include Sterling Development, the Indianapolis Housing Authority, Challenge Foundation Academy, Tinsley Accelerated Academy, Excel Academy and a unique health and wellness facility under construction that is a venture between the YMCA and HealthNet (a subsidiary of Indiana University Health).
In Spartanburg, South Carolina, the Northside Development Corporation is partnering with neighborhood residents, the City, the Spartanburg Housing Authority and Spartanburg School District 7 and others to revitalize the Northside of the city. One of the first projects is the construction of a new food hub, in partnership with the Butterfly Foundation, that will include a grocery store, community kitchen, urban farm and farmers’ market.
In Birmingham, the Woodlawn Foundation is supporting Woodlawn United, a comprehensive redevelopment that will include new mixed-income housing, improved schools and increased health and wellness resources. A longstanding partner is the Christ Health Center that provides healthcare to residents of the community so that all may live an “abundant” life. Woodlawn United also includes the Jones Valley Teaching Farm whose mission is to make the community a healthier place by empowering future generations to eat smarter, think healthier and live better.
The Purpose Built Communities Model creates healthy communities. Our approach to community redevelopment dramatically changes the social determinants of health. Research shows that people are healthier when they live in communities that include great quality housing, high quality education and opportunities for recreation and civic engagement. Those of us in the community development arena must marshal the existing resources in an effective way to create communities where the healthy choice is the easy choice.
As our founder, Tom Cousins, says, “East Lake is not an exception. Neither is the Bayou District development in New Orleans or the Meadows Community development in Indianapolis. Come see for yourself. Then imagine what the impact would be if every city had a holistic, neighborhood-based, child-focused reformation effort going on in at least one of its own neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.”