SOCAP Panel Preview: Greg Giornelli, Purpose Built Communities

Greg Giornelli is President and COO of Purpose Built Communities, a nonprofit organization located in Atlanta, GA that supports holistic community redevelopment focusing on mixed-income housing strategy, cradle-to-college education, and supportive services.   Through their Purpose Built Communities Network, they provide guidance and technical assistance to foundations, community organizations, nonprofits, developers, and city governments.  Greg managed the East Lake Community Foundation’s $125 million inner-city neighborhood revitalization effort in Atlanta, which inspired Purpose Built Communities to replicate that success in other communities. With support and visibility from founder Tom Cousins, investor Warren Buffett and hedge fund manager Julian Robertson, the organization’s progressive, comprehensive approach is making an important statement in urban investment and affordable housing.

Giornelli will be appearing on our panel at SOCAP entitled “Investing in Home: The Role of Housing and the Built Environment” on Wednesday at 4:45p.

Lenora Suki:   Managing revitalization efforts in disadvantaged communities, it must be challenging to work with real estate developers to develop a vision for delivering long-term value and supporting the livelihoods of lower and moderate income people.  How do you work with investors and developers to do that?

Greg Giornelli:   We provide the necessary expertise and personalized coaching, as well as financial and strategic guidance to our partners.  Purpose Built Communities takes a long-term approach.  It takes 5-10 years before seeing significant differences in neighborhoods.   After the revitalization of Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood with the building of Atlanta’s first public charter school, a public golf course, and community centers such as the YMCA, Purpose Built Communities consults with local lead organizations to replicate that success in other communities.   Capital providers, investors and private developers who are patient will see similar financial and social returns with their local projects.

LS:  What makes Purpose Built Communities a viable social enterprise model?

GG: Research gathered from projects such as East Lake has shown that long-term investment, network collaboration, and community involvement are all essential to community revitalization.  A holistic model of community revitalization is the most effective and most sustainable.  Purpose Built Communities focuses on mixed-income housing and cradle-to-college educational opportunities as the essential elements for comprehensive community revitalization.  The advantage of investing in these two pillars is the long-term economic development of the community.  For instance, in the East Lake project successes have reduced violent crime by 95% and dramatically increased test scores and property values.  Community redevelopment projects need to be economically viable as well as socially inclusive.

LS: One thing I noticed is that your model relies on building partnerships, and partnerships are key for the success of most social enterprises. What are the advantages and tradeoffs for Purpose Built Communities?

GG: Our mission is to develop healthy communities, and efforts that systematically address multiple issues at the same time have been proven to be more effective.  By working with partners we reduce violent crime, boost employment, build student achievement, benefit the local economy, foster involvement, and enhance neighborhood sustainability.   To tackle all these areas we need partnerships with the public, private, and social sectors.

Working through a local single purpose lead organization, we equip other local organizations with the capacity to create substantial impact.  This approach creates long-term and sustainable results.  Our network, which facilitates the sharing of knowledge, best practices, challenges, tools, and strategies – further increases each organization’s capacity, multiplying the impact that is and will be created.

LS:  I was impressed at the measurable impact of your East Lake Project and the fact that it’s quantified in human terms, not just housing units. Is the broader evaluation of the holistic approach part of Purpose Built Communities’ replication models?

GG:   Purpose Built Communities seeks to imitate the East Lake Project in other communities because we have found a holistic approach to be the most viable.  Community revitalization includes measuring the number of housing developments, charter school pupil achievement, community services, and the number of people served.  We evaluate the holistic approach in our very implementation of these projects simultaneously.  We do not build housing without also creating the appropriate educational opportunities, community centers, public services, and infrastructure.

We are working with The South Rome Redevelopment Corporation and Mercy Housing Southeast to create a new neighborhood with affordable housing, which will provide close-knit community living, with office and community spaces, for 77 seniors and families.   We are also working on one of the largest urban transformational projects – the rebuilding and renewing of the Bayou District in New Orleans.  The new community will include 900 mixed income apartment homes, 300 affordable single-family homes, 125 apartments for senior housing, as well as a new charter school and a premier public college prep school.  We work with other projects in Indianapolis, Galveston, Flint and Omaha, among others.

Written with research and writing assistance from Karen Huang, Smart Cities Advisors intern in Summer 2011

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