An Education Model with an Affordable Housing Solution
By: Marjy Stagmeier, Partner, TriStar Real Estate Investment
This week the school-bells ring across the Atlanta region signaling the beginning of another school year. For some of you this means no more summer schedule. For others it just means thinking twice about your commute as traffic patterns have changed. For me, the new school year is the reminder of the important community ecosystem intertwining education and housing, and the critical impact that housing has on the educational achievement of our children. While we are housing investors, we often describe our company as an “education model, with an affordable housing solution”.
TriStar, an Atlanta-based real estate investment firm, improves education through affordable housing by addressing transiency. “Transiency”, or the movement of children from one school to another, is one of the key predictors for the performance of a student and their school. If a child stays in a consistent learning environment within the same year (and preferably year over year), they thrive academically compared to their more transient counterparts. This is a little-known fact by landlords, but well documented through years of data accumulated by frustrated educators. Dollars invested in the education of our children are partially lost when that child walks out the door and transfers from school to school to school. Find a failing school and we can probably find you a blighted or older transient apartment community festering in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, blighted and transient apartment communities bring reinforcing challenges. These properties mean families move when better options become available, increasing transiency and negatively impacting the school. It is a ‘doom loop’.
TriStar seeks older apartment communities near low-performing schools, renovates the property and offers rents affordable for working families. The target is $700 per month, which is the 2018 Federal Poverty Level threshold for families of four earning $25,100 per year. The majority of TriStar’s tenants live near the federal poverty line. To ensure a wholistic model, TriStar partners with Star-C, a 501c3 non-profit which offers free on-site wrap around community services including after-school programs, summer camps, wellness (partnering with health and dental clinics) and community gardens. Some of the profits made by TriStar are funneled back to Star-C to provide these community services.
A great example of this model is Willow Branch Apartments, in DeKalb County, GA. Willow Branch was built in 1972 and launched by TriStar in 2014.
Willow Branch offers after-school programs, summer camps, a community garden and wellness programs. These wrap-around services are central to the project’s success because they mitigate financial distress on the family. The results of the TriStar model at Willow Branch have been beautiful creating over $1 million dollars of positive social impact in the last year. The children registered in the Star-C after-school program are academically thriving and the families enjoy the dental and primary care services offered through the partnership with the local federally qualified health clinics. The family also enjoys an affordable housing environment where they can raise their family in a stable ecosystem that fosters community. This stability translates to the school as well. In 2017 Indian Creek Elementary received the Platinum Award for greatest gains in student achievement for 3 years running!
The model offers a triple-bottom-line-win benefitting the educators, families, and Tristar from low tenant turnover. Willow Branch operates independent of government subsidies.
The model is beginning to gain traction, with gracious partnerships including Morehouse Medical, Kaboom Playgrounds, Oakhurst Medical, Southside Medical, Emory School of Public Health, Atlanta Public Schools, and Atlanta Police Foundation. Georgia Power is providing energy efficiency upgrades to reduce the energy burden associated with older apartment communities.
TriStar recently purchased Summerdale Commons, a 244-unit apartment community near Cleveland Avenue as its first acquisition within the jurisdictional limits of the city of Atlanta. The feeder school is Cleveland Elementary, a low-performing school with the goal to get STEM certified. TriStar is working with the leadership of Cleveland Elementary, Atlanta Public Schools and Star-C to lay the ground-work to reduce transiency and design the collaborative on-site after-school program at the community.
Our mission is to continue to preserve Atlanta’s affordable housing stock and raise awareness on the importance of partnerships with public schools and non-profits offering wrap-around services. It is why we are participating in a ULI Atlanta-led effort called HouseATL, a taskforce comprised of a diverse group of smart-civic leadership across Atlanta, who are committed to improving the housing choices for individuals and families across the income spectrum. This group is addressing housing in a holistic way and will be putting forth a set of comprehensive recommendations soon on community retention and anti-displacement efforts, as well as preserving affordable housing and building new. As a practitioner of “community retention”, we are excited about these efforts and others happening across our city and region to highlight the critical importance of quality affordable housing.
About: TriStar and Star-C jointly host a monthly breakfast at the Atlanta Community Food Bank on the last Thursday of every month to educate and engage the community on this model. To learn more please visit www.star-c.org.