Gentrifier, interloper, developer: A new breed of builders is attempting to reclaim the “D” word and make development a little kinder and friendlier.
Don’t call the real estate development company Venn a developer. Its founders prefer “neighboring start-up.”
And don’t call the company’s tenants, who are scattered across 20 buildings in the quickly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, renters. They are “members” or “Venners.”
“We describe ourselves as a new way of living,” said Or Bokobza, the chief executive, whose goals include ending the displacement of lower-income residents, creating “fair housing” and “changing the narrative” of gentrification.
The company compiles reports on its progress, recently announcing a 33 percent drop in loneliness among tenants. In Bushwick, Venners pay as little as $900 a month for a “shared apartment” (essentially a private bedroom with a common kitchen and bathroom) and access to community events, like mixers in the back of a bodega.
Fewer companies want to be just developers anymore, and for good reason. The word has become associated with neighborhood discord, fears of rising rents and hipster homogeny. Enter what has come to be known as the “impact” developer, a socially conscious builder navigating a difficult moment when both liberal and conservative groups can quash real estate plans, sometimes for the same reasons.
Whether because of conscience, brand awareness or something in between, an increasing number of market-rate developers are thinking critically about their role in gentrification and are embracing new business models — and often a new vocabulary, as well. In New York, Philadelphia and Washington, projects with civic-minded goals are emerging as the conversation on inequality turns again to housing.
But can this friendlier breed of builders reclaim the “D” word?
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