Benjamin Thompson Kirk: A Lesson in Building and Protecting Affordable Homes

Benjamin Thompson Kirk: A Lesson in Building and Protecting Affordable Homes

Benjamin Thompson Kirk has extensive experience of the real estate industry, with clients throughout the US, Canada and the UK. This article will explore the issue of real estate development in the US today, examining the shortfall in affordable homes and what policymakers and developers can do about it.

One of the leading developers of affordable housing in the US today, New York-based Jonathan Rose Companies has been operating since 1989, delivering more than 100 affordable developments in mixed-income communities – including the new 709-unit Sendero Verde complex in East Harlem.

According to a report published by Forbes, the company has earned an enviable reputation for creating ‘Communities of Opportunity’. As Jonathan Rose himself puts it, his company develops communities that enhance opportunity for all. As the development company’s Founder and President, Rose has touched upon many aspects of community health, working closely with cities and not-for-profits to create affordable, mixed-income housing, as well as vital health, educational and cultural infrastructure.

Jonathan Rose advocates for neighborhoods to be enriched with parks and other open spaces, jobs, mass transit and healthy food. Rose’s book The Well Tempered City theorizes on the importance of cities addressing important issues of our time, contending that they can be redesigned to tackle environmental and social problems, helping humanity to thrive.

The mission of Jonathan Rose Companies is to build communities where all residents and employees have equal access to health, wellbeing and environmental opportunity. The United States was founded on the premise of being a Land of Opportunity, yet health, opportunity and environmental inequities have created a fundamental misallocation of justice, according to Rose.

In order to create a fair, just society, Jonathan Rose contends that it is our moral imperative to overcome this obstacle, creating Communities of Opportunity with safe, stable, green affordable housing. Jonathan Rose Companies’ ultimate goal is to build or buy affordable and mixed-income housing, expanding the platform of opportunity by providing or connecting each development’s residents with health, education, transportation, cultural, social, and other elements, so that they and the company’s staff can become empowered partners, transforming their own neighborhoods. Although Rose concedes that this will not equalize outcomes, the hope is that it will equalize residents’ pathways.

As Rose points out, lower-income neighborhoods are statistically more likely to be nearer to highways, industrial areas, bus depots, ports, garbage processing facilities, chemical plants, wastewater treatment plants, etc. Pollution from such facilities have significant negative health implications, as well as affecting cognitive development. Rose also cites the experience of stress, trauma and constant fear of crime as incurring negative life-long cognitive and health effects.

Jonathan Rose Companies’ approach is to create mixed-income housing that contributes to better communities. He cites Raj Chetty’s Opportunity Insights project as a clear indication of how children that move from areas of poverty to middle-income neighborhoods at a young age have better life outcomes.

Rose’s company operates with the ethos that improving neighborhoods, schools and street safety creates healthier environments for local residents. He underlines the importance of providing residents with an affordable stake in neighborhood improvement, enabling them to buy, preserve and improve existing affordable housing; develop new affordable and mixed-income housing; and invest in projects that create jobs in local communities.

As Jonathan Rose explains, it is essential to expand residents’ opportunities by improving facilities, including bringing in programs for onsite healthcare, food, education, and arts and culture. If replicated across the United States, this ambitious vision could have profound consequences, helping local communities and whole cities to thrive.

With prosperous, growing, tech-rich cities like Boston, Austin and Seattle gripped by soaring rents and house prices, many contend that the only viable path to affordable housing is to build up and outwards in American cities, increasing availability of affordable accommodation for low and middle-income families. After all, aside from economic decline and depopulation, this is the only strategy that really works.

Whether achieved via private developers, limited-profit organizations or state monopoly, there is an ever-increasing need for more affordable housing in cities across America today; without an abundance of affordable properties, affordability strategies such as inclusionary zoning and rent control can be fruitless, or even counterproductive.

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