Artists of the Possible
You may be familiar with the phrase “the art of the possible”. It was one of those sayings I heard in college that stuck with me. If you Google the phrase, it is fairly depressing. One contributor explained: "It's not about what's right or what's best. It's about what you can actually get done". It's associated with “Realpolitik”, a political philosophy of setting pragmatism over ideological goals.
Well, I guess I missed the point. (Not the first time, or the last, I can assure you…) To me the phrase has an entirely different and positive meaning. I took the phrase to describe the process of translating impossible goals driven by ideals and aspirations into reality. The ‘art” part of the phrase relates to the creative ways we seek to get as close to the ideal as possible.
Regardless of our various professions, we are responsible for outcomes. Maximizing the quality and impact of those outcomes is the challenge.
So enough philosophizing! What I really want to talk about is how many of our OCCH partners master the “art of the possible”. And with affordable housing what is possible relates to the basic four components of real estate: the locational aspect and neighborhood context; the physical aspect of construction and design, the human aspect of the residents, and the financial aspect of rents, debt and operating costs.
Consider the following:
- The Testa Companies Watermark development in Cuyahoga Falls. With a wonderful location adjacent to the downtown, the mixed use project combines first floor commercial, market rate condominiums and affordable senior rental housing. The Testa Companies have undertaken other impactful mixed use developments in Barberton (the design of the building influenced by the historic Barber Stables) and with East Akron Neighborhood Development Corporation, an urban development partnering with a local church. In these latter two developments, the local health system is the anchor tenant.
- The Louisville Metropolitan Housing Authority’s multi-phased Sheppard Square project has been rebuilding the Smoketown neighborhood for the past several years with beautifully designed mixed income units, experimentation on alternative construction techniques, and amenities which include charging stations for electric cars. Nearing completion is the renovation of the historic Presbyterian Community Center into senior housing. This building once housed the gym and boxing ring in which the late and Greatest Muhamad Ali learned to box.
- Community Housing Network (CHN) recently completed the renovation of their scattered site portfolio of housing for the chronically mentally ill. While CHN has several larger single site developments for the homeless and other special need populations, they have historically purchased smaller buildings throughout the county in order to better integrate this population into the community. The recent renovation involved 414 units in 4-10 unit buildings scattered through Columbus and included an array of service providers addressing the support needs of the residents.
- We have invested in several Scholar House projects including Family Scholar House in Louisville, partnerships with Wabuck Development in Bowling Green and Paducah Kentucky, and now with Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority and the OCCH affiliate, Community Properties of Ohio (CPO) in Columbus. This program, which provides affordable housing and other supports such as child care for student parents going to college, is impactful and an important strategy to helping families move out of poverty.
I have a hard time believing those that drafted the LIHTC provisions of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 could have foreseen all of the types of developments the new program would create. For better or worse, this sole remaining federal rental housing production program is relied on to provide housing for the homeless, recapitalize Section 8, public housing and rural housing projects, revitalize neighborhoods, build workforce housing, house senior citizens and pretty much everything else.
But I continue to be inspired by our partners that practice ‘the art of the possible” by using creativity and foresight to have a greater impact on communities and those desperately in need of affordable housing.