Think about the saying, “only as strong as its weakest link.” This in no way suggests that affordable housing is inherently the weakest link. The issue is that it can be, and many times is treated as a necessary evil. Subsequently, affordable housing is often dealt with as minimally as possible.
Building a real sense of place in affordable housing developments can be an amazing benefit to a community. Quality affordable housing plays an important role in the creation of vibrant and sustainable communities. People who live in affordable housing include senior citizens, carpenters, security guards, bank tellers, retail workers and medical professionals, to provide examples. These individuals have careers and families, are critical to creating dynamic communities and want to live in an environment in which they can take pride. These passionate community members desire and deserve, and appreciate a sense of place and belonging just like anyone else.
Thoughtful property development offers an opportunity for a lasting connection with residents and community members, providing a true sense of place—the intrinsic character of a place, or the meaning people give to it, but, more often, a mixture of both. The possibilities are great, yet some affordable developments fall short of making this a reality. Market rate developments do, too, at times. But let’s stay focused.
A variety of factors combine to create the type of affordable housing that is actually capable of providing a sense of place. One factor that is often overlooked is proper branding—elevating what is distinct ad valuable about the development in relevant ways. Done well, communicating the essence of the place is the difference between providing a consistently comfortable and neighborly experience for residents and visitors and simply providing a building with which to reside. Branding elevates the true character of a development and provides an emotional connection that people can feel and embrace. It defines, differentiates and creates balance and cohesion. It leverages history and the positive qualities of the development. It inspires a sense of ownership, stability and empowerment in those who reside there and reassures the surrounding community.
Building a real sense of place
How else does branding contribute to building a real sense of place in affordable housing developments? It provides authenticity, reflecting the flavor of the location and surrounding community while providing an identity that community members are eager to embrace. It can be the difference between feeling like a home and feeling like a hotel. A lack of branding or poor branding, however, can serve as a significant barrier to people who live in and around the development by serving as a disconnect with the community and residents. Although a number of factors can impact the overall function of an affordable community, effective branding offers great potential for revitalization and long-term value by engaging residents, which translates to an expression of pride and passion for the community at large, as well as raving fans who communicate the value of the property to others.
Crafting a brand vision and identity for affordable communities is a worthy investment. It ties the place together and ensures a cohesive experience for residents and visitors alike. Properly branding a development ensures that residents, neighbors and surrounding communities connect with and appreciate their new home, adding value to the property for years to come.