We received the following letter from Ron Beit of the RBH Group responding to this article. The Prospect's repeated efforts over several weeks to reach Mr. Beit while this article was being reported and written went unanswered.
To the Editor:
Rachel Cohen’s article, “Can Affordable Housing Retain Teachers,” features Newark’s Teachers Village, an inner city project to provide affordable and market rate housing to teachers and administrators in a city struggling to revitalize. Unfortunately, the article paints a picture that is misinformed and full of inaccuracies about this exciting project.
Ms. Cohen could not have visited the area and included many [quotations that were inaccurate], such as, “The problem is that (Newark’s Teachers Village) is clearly designed for white, young professional types…” and “It’s just becoming a little yuppie commercial district…”.
In fact, 72 percent of all the residents in Teachers Village are minority, and close to 70 percent of all residents are educators. Of those, 44 percent are Americorps or Tutor Corps (recruited nationwide to train at Great Oaks school). Thirty-eight percent of the residents are charter-school teachers and 18 percent are district teachers.
Forty-nine percent of the construction hours on the project were completed by minority workers, compared to a city mandate of 30 percent. And 34 percent of the construction hours went to Newark residents, compared to a city mandate of 30 percent.
There was no gentrification, no eminent domain, and not one single resident was displaced by the project. RBH Group built Teachers Village in Newark on what was 91 percent surface parking lots.
Contrary to what Randi Weingarten states, that the teachers union wasn't involved in the project, Teachers Village was built in partnership with the city and the community, in consultation with the Teachers Union and with the collaboration with the AFL-CIO construction and trade unions, who even provided new market tax credits.
To market the apartments, RBH Group went directly to the district school network, and had them distribute information to all the teachers, staff, and administrators in the district concerning the availability of not only the market rate units but also the affordable units. This could have been easily confirmed by a call to the district schools.
Most celebrate Teachers Village as a place for district schoolteachers, charter schoolteachers, and independent schoolteachers to live together, exchange ideas, and share the energy and innovation that can only be a benefit to the city and the children of Newark.
Teachers Village is a sustainable model that should be introduced in every municipality across the country as a tool to recruit and retain the best teachers, as well as to stimulate economic development in neighborhoods that have long been left fallow; where no one lived or worked for many years. Putting teachers from all types of schools—district, charter, and independent—at the center of the community and building a vibrant, affordable, 24-hour neighborhood around our city’s working professionals is an honorable pursuit and one that should be emulated across America.
Ron Beit, President RBH Group