Fast-spreading trends of tenant eviction, property flipping, and gentrification face neighborhoods in cities across the U.S—including in Haverford College’s own urban backyard. On Wednesday, three alumni spoke at a panel on “Equitable Urban Redevelopment in Philadelphia,” hosted by Haverford’s Microfinance and Impact Investing Initiative (Mi3), and discussed possibilities for bringing wealth and opportunity into neighborhoods without forcing longtime residents out.
Travis West ’13, Stuart Hean ’14, and Kae Anderson ’13, in just a few years after graduation, have each found their way to organizations that approach the challenge of development in different ways.
West is the manager of grants and donor relations at ReBuild Metro, a partnership between The Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia-based community-development financial institution, and Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development (BUILD), a Baltimore-based community advocacy nonprofit. West works in ReBuild Metro’s Philadelphia office, but his organization conducts most of their work in Baltimore, conducting targeted real estate investment to re-establish markets in the neighborhood, and emphasizing neighborhood amenities and options for home ownership.
“The market usually just produces luxury housing or slightly less than luxury housing. It doesn’t quite create the space for people who have a tough time affording it,” said West. “We take grant funds and lessen the cost of housing, and that is translated to our target group.”
While West gains support for residential subsidization, Stuart Hean specializes in the commercial and industrial side of development. He is a leasing and media agent at Shift Capital, a social-impact real estate firm that focuses its efforts in Kensington, a northeast Philadelphia neighborhood. Shift aims to “re-tenant” properties with community-oriented people and businesses with the long-term goal of maintaining affordability. Besides managing the company’s online media presence, Hean works with business prospects that would fit well in a creative, community-oriented atmosphere that Shift is trying to foster.
“Essentially we are a social-impact fund that is capitalized by a series of investors who understand that their financial returns should be coupled with social returns based on how we’re assessing impact of our projects in the neighborhood,” said Hean, who started working with Shift last June.
Shift Capital has collaborated with the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC), where Kae Anderson ’13 serves as an economic development director. The group organizes and cooperates with Kensington locals to promote resident-driven development. Anderson specializes in promoting local businesses, helping them find the services and funds they need to grow.
“One of the things that I focus on in my work is making sure that the people who are taking advantage of our entrepreneurship-training programs are coming from the community, and that the people who are taking advantage of our first-time-home-buyer programs are coming from the community,” she said. “So it’s very people-first—asking them the questions of what they would like to see.”
Though all three alums work in urban settings, none majored in the interdisciplinary growth and structure of cities department at Bryn Mawr. West majored in anthropology and took several Africana studies classes. Hean majored in psychology and minored in environmental studies during the program’s inaugural year. On the more quantitative side, Anderson majored in mathematics and minored in economics.
West, who grew up in public housing in Hartford, Conn., says his experiences in a place without enough services, such as childcare and after-school programming, led him to intellectually question the reasons behind his community’s situation. He has carried this inquiry through his academic and professional work.
“I could walk one and a half miles west of where I lived and it would be totally different, and that was always part of the fabric of my experience,” said West, who lived in a predominantly black and Latino neighborhood but had white classmates during the course of his private education. “Now that I had classmates that had a different background than me, I’m interacting with them, [asking] ‘Why are you so different?’ So I always had questions growing up, and that’s part of the reason why I got into anthropology.”
Entering his professional life, West emphasized three personal goals: providing for himself, finding intellectual stimulation, and seeking a creative or entrepreneurial element. He started by volunteering at a hospital, and then moved on to working at an Ardmore law office and then a real estate development company with Peter Goldberger ’71 and Nicholas Kerr ’04, respectively. While networking with other young professionals in Philadelphia, he learned about the nonprofit sphere, which led him to his current employer.
“It was kind of like investigative research,” he said. “I had a general idea, I had a theory about how I was going to get there, and then I had to work and job-hop a little bit.”
Hean also used work experience to explore his interests and further his professional goals. He gained research experience at the University of Pennsylvania that helped him understand what affects an urban environment and introduced him to the field of community-development finance. Hoping to build on his inquiry, he, like West, found work at the Redevelopment Fund. After two years, he shared his career interests with Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics and MI3 Director Shannon Mudd, who introduced Hean to Shift Capital.
On campus, Hean helped found the Haverford College Gardening Initiative that later turned into the Haverfarm and also led the Big Donkey Ultimate Frisbee Club. His experiences helped him discover his passions laid and learn how to turn them into an organized, cohesive push for change.
“[I have a] general interest in working to change the systems that have created a socioeconomic inequity in our society,” he said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to be on the nonprofit side or the governmental side, and after working for a nonprofit, I got turned on to the world of social enterprise and had a growing sense that nonprofits might not be the most efficient way to address social issues.”
Anderson’s path to NKCDC was more direct. She pursued a year of service with the organization through the Americorps VISTA program, and nearly five years later, she now lives and works in Kensington.
She feels excited by her work in a fast-paced career field that frequently presents her with new challenges. In a city that faces swift and powerful forces of change, Haverford, she says, has helped her maintain a broad picture of what her goals are in the community.
“Haverford taught me how to truly think critically and question everything,” she said. “Working in the field of urban redevelopment, it is very easy to get caught up in the day to day problems and solutions. My Haverford education taught me to always keep the bigger picture in the forefront of my mind.”
Photo by Holden Blanco ’17.