A partnership will boost SE Raleigh with a new Y, school and housing

An artist’s rendering of the proposed combination YMCA and a PreK-5 school planned for Southeast Raleigh.
An artist’s rendering of the proposed combination YMCA and a PreK-5 school planned for Southeast Raleigh. Rendering courtesy of Purpose Built Communities Network

Do you know the ZIP code where you were born?

Research shows there is no greater indicator of a person’s potential life outcomes than exactly where he or she is born. Poverty in this country is tied to place. Today, the effects of historical patterns of advancement and retreat remain evident in 27610, the primary ZIP code for Southeast Raleigh.

Raleigh is experiencing a period of growth, yet we rank very low for upward mobility compared with other U.S. cities. If you are poor in Southeast Raleigh, chances are you will stay poor. As a whole, Southeast Raleigh is economically diverse, yet there are specific neighborhoods that have not seen the same level of investment over time.

The reasons for large disparities in education level, household income, inadequate access to health care and other factors in these predominantly African-American neighborhoods are complex, and the cycles of oppression have made change slow and disconnected. As more people want to live and work in our community and the pace of development picks up, the time is now to ensure that this part of our city is not once again overlooked.

It takes investment and leadership to begin peeling back the layers of oppression. For years, the YMCA of the Triangle studied the possibility of a new facility in Southeast Raleigh. As their conversations gained momentum, volunteer and staff leadership from the organization learned about Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood, where partners worked together to build a YMCA, a charter school and mixed-income housing as part of a comprehensive effort to completely transform the area. East Lake is a part of the Purpose Built Communities Network. Purpose Built is a nonprofit community development consulting group that offers free services to neighborhoods that are serious about breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

Purpose Built began working with the YMCA of the Triangle and other community leaders to broaden the scope of the project in Southeast Raleigh to include not only the construction of a YMCA, but also a PreK-5 school in partnership with Wake County public schools and high-quality, mixed-income housing, all with a focus on leadership development and economic opportunity.

All of that work requires collaboration and partnership. A new organization, Southeast Raleigh Promise, was formed for that purpose – to lead the development of a holistic set of strategies, resources and programs with partners to create a healthy, safe environment for children and families that leverages the economic diversity of Southeast Raleigh to benefit everyone who lives there.

Southeast Raleigh Promise now serves as the “community quarterback” for the initiative. It helps coordinate with partners and local residents to ensure that the vision of a healthy, economically diverse neighborhood becomes a reality. Southeast Raleigh Promise is also a member of the Purpose Built Communities Network, which means the organization will benefit from similar efforts in 17 (and that number is growing fast) communities across the country. We are blazing our own path for others to learn from as well – neighborhood revitalization with the YMCA as a lead partner is a unique approach.

Make no mistake: This is an enormous undertaking. The YMCA is raising $17 million to purchase the property and build a new facility. The housing partner is expected to achieve over $12 million in financing for affordable housing units. Wake County has already pledged $1 million and will invest over $20 million to pay for the new school, which will open in 2019.

Since our efforts began in late 2015, Southeast Raleigh Promise has engaged hundreds of residents, employed 19 youth canvassers and held several community town halls and focus groups.

The people of Southeast Raleigh are resilient and have the creativity to solve problems. This community does not need a quick, well-meaning fix. Instead, a long-term commitment from city and county officials, foundations, businesses, citywide residents and others to provide leadership and resources can create a vibrant community where people of all incomes thrive and prosper. That is the Southeast Raleigh promise.

Kia Baker is executive director of Southeast Raleigh Promise. David Edwards is the CEO of Purpose Built Communities.