Few would disagree that attracting good teachers to the nation's schools is critical to closing America's educational achievement gap. But before those new teachers can begin to make a difference in the classroom, they need somewhere to live. In Baltimore, one real-estate developer with a passion for education and a desire to do good has found a unique way to support the city's new teachers: He's built them homes.
When Donald A. Manekin became the interim chief operating officer of the Baltimore School District in 2002, he was struck by how hard it was for Teach for America corps members and other new teachers to find safe, affordable apartments. As he listened to these young professionals' challenges and concerns, Manekin wanted to help.
After establishing the Seawall Development Corp. with his son Thibault, Manekin transformed an abandoned tin-can manufacturing plant in north Baltimore into a LEED-certified mixed-use building featuring one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. This $21.9 million project was financed in part by the New Markets Tax Credit, a federal initiative designed to spur investment in low-income communities. Tax credits and loans from the state and the city also helped to fill the project's financing gap.
Opened in 2009, Miller's Court provides beautiful apartments and top-notch amenities at significantly lower rents than the teachers would have to pay for similar housing elsewhere in Baltimore. Several education-focused nonprofits also have found a home at Miller's Court. By locating conference rooms and other communal spaces in the building's basement, Manekin has been able to help the nonprofits minimize the amount of space they rent so that they can spend less on overhead and more on delivering services.
Speaking in a Techniques of Urban Economic Development class at the University of Pennsylvania recently, Manekin described how Miller's Court was built to suit its residents' specific needs. Based on feedback from Teach for America members, for example, Manekin included a copy center in the building so that teachers could make photocopies at night without leaving home.
Manekin and his partners also took care to ask people in the surrounding community what they wanted from the building. After holding several community engagement sessions, it was clear that many neighbors wanted a café. They got one, and it has been a hit.
In addition to making life better for some of Baltimore's teachers, Miller's Court has provided an additional benefit to the city: It has become a catalyst for new development in its neighborhood. Indeed, Seawall Development is now renovating homes for teachers and other public servants to buy -- a long-term commitment that many of Miller's Court's residents now want to make. It would be hard to find a better example of socially responsible development.