I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Who Will Live In Newark's Teachers Village? TFAers

UPDATE: More on Teach For America's role in gentrifying cities and making land developers rich.

Teach For America looks like it wants to expand its presence in New Jersey:
Dear Greater Philadelphia Alumni, 
I hope this letter finds you well and with exciting summer plans on the horizon. For those of you I don't know, my name is Yolonda Marshall and I am the interim executive director of the Greater Philadelphia region. Greater Newark executive director Fatimah Burnam-Watkins and I are writing to you today to share some exciting news about Teach For America's work in the great state of New Jersey. 
We are incredibly proud of our corps members and alumni working every day in seven different communities throughout the Garden State. We continue to see progress toward the attainment of our collective vision, and as such it has become clear to us that we've got to start thinking about our impact and potential as one collective group, as opposed to splitting New Jersey into two camps - north and south. The clusters of corps members and alumni in Camden and Trenton have been a proud part of the Greater Philadelphia corps for six years now, but it's time for us to recognize the potential we have as a unified New Jersey corps. 
In that spirit, Fatimah and I are excited to announce that over the coming year we will unify our corps members and alumni in Camden, Trenton, and Greater Newark under one united Teach For America - New Jersey region, to be established and fully operational by the Fall of 2014. A more immediate step is that starting on July 1 of this year, all alumni throughout the state of New Jersey will be managed by our Greater Newark region. Our two regional Alumni Affairs teams are in close contact, and we look forward to sharing information and co-managing this transition this year.
I just love the breathless prose that comes out of TFA: if something's not "incredible," it's "exciting" or "thrilling." It's like TFA's p.r. people are bucking for jobs writing Hollywood trailers.

Of course New Jersey needs another reformy group setting up shop here like we need another superstorm. We already have E3, B4K/StudentsFirst, DFER-NJ, JerseyCAN... I mean, come on folks: there are only so many hedge fund bucks to go around!

Normally, I wouldn't think this was a particularly noteworthy story: how TFA chooses to organize itself isn't really a big issue. But then I took a look at who serves on the Advisory Board for TFA-Newark, which will undoubtedly be the hub around which the state-wide TFA is built:

Advisory Board

Ron Beit, Partner and CEO, RBH Management
Susan Dunn, Board Co-Chair, Community Volunteer
Lucia Gibbons, Regional President, Wells Fargo
Lawrence Goldman, President and CEO, New Jersey Performing Arts Center
Janet Landau, College Consultant
Martha Newton, Vice President of Governance, Prudential
Richard Pechter, Teach For America Alumnus, Retired Chair, Donaldson, Lufkin, & Jenrette
Dudley Ryan, Senior Vice President, CB Richard Ellis
Ajay Shroff, Investor, MSD Capital, LP
Dr. Rosemary Steinbaum, Educator
Dana Zucker, Board Co-Chair, Independent Consultant
Ron Beit - hmm, where have I heard that name before? Oh, yeah, that's right - he's the developer behind Newark's Teachers Village:
Remember the name: Teachers Village. It's a $150 million, mixed-use development that just broke ground with great fanfare in Newark. The idea is that teachers will live in the complex and teach at one of the three charter schools that will occupy the site.

As you might imagine, your taxpayers dollars are funding this experiment:

The project was awarded nearly $40 million in Urban Transit Hub tax credits from the state Economic Development Authority and allocated $60 million in federal New Markets tax credits for the school portion. Other public financing came from the city of Newark, the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, and federal Qualified School Construction Bonds, according to an EDA memo. Private financing came from Goldman Sachs, Prudential Financial Corp., TD Bank and New Jersey Community Capital, Beit said. In the early months of the recession, Beit said, Berggruen’s unwavering commitment to the project — Berggruen said he considers his investment "long-term" — brought everyone else together.
$100 million in tax credits; not too shabby. If anyone tries to convince you that billionaires are interested in charter schools solely out of altruism, point them to this project. Why else do you think the biggest Master of the Universe of them all showed up?

A veritable who’s who of real estate developers, corporate leaders and elected officials gathered this morning to celebrate the groundbreaking of Teachers Village in downtown Newark and mark the start of a major project now underway.
The crowd of more than 200 piled into a tent at the site at the corner of Halsey and William streets, two blocks from the Prudential Center. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, whose urban investment group helped finance the project, said projects like Teachers Village are exactly the types of opportunities they look for to support economic growth. World famous architect Richard Meier, who was born in Newark and designed the buildings, said the day was “more than a homecoming, it is a dream come true.” The majority of project investors are from New York, including lead developer Ron Beit of RBH Group. [emphasis mine]
I'm going to have a lot to say about this as I keep digging over the next few weeks. For now:

  • The apartments in the complex are studios to two-bedrooms that will range from $700 to $1,400 a month. Who do you think will be attracted to this housing: young people just starting out, or older couples with families? So much for experienced teachers working at these charters, although that has always been one of the key points of the charter "movement," hasn't it? Even here in Jersey (thanks, Darcie).
Beit's got himself one sweet deal, doesn't he? He uses $100 million in tax credits to finance a project in Newark, then lines up a group of charter schools as his business occupants, who will pay their rents with taxpayer funds.

Then, as if that isn't enough, he sets himself up to direct a steady flow of college-educated renters right into his residential units - through TFA! In fact, TFA has a page where prospective "teachers" can figure out their expenses when they move to Newark. By default, rent is listed as $1150: right in the range for units at Teachers Village. There's also a happy-happy neighborhood description on the TFA-Newark website: I don't think a real estate agent could have written one better.

This is hardly a new idea: in Baltimore, 70 percent of Miller's Court's residents are TFAers. Again, the financing was helped by New Markets Tax Credits.

But I have to imagine that Beit's looking downstate at Camden (and, for that matter, other cities in New Jersey) and licking his chops. The whole place has been taken over by the state and stands poised to become as charterized as New Orleans. Tax credits, bond money, and other public funding has flooded into the area: the expansion of charters is part of that deluge. Land is cheap and the city needs an influx of yuppies to begin the gentrification its leaders so desperately crave. It's the perfect place to replicate Teachers Village.

There's been plenty written about how TFA has become a political organization. But I suspect it's also poised to become a power broker in the brave new world of 21st Century urban development. Cities used to have to put together marketing campaigns and development plans to start gentrifying neighborhoods. Now, they just have to give TFA a call, and the yuppies will come rolling in.

And it's all paid for with public monies. Everyone cool with that?

"I am!" says the state's most popular Republican.

"Me too!" says the state's most popular Democrat.


phila.ken said...

Apparently this is another gold rush by corporate education reform. From Philadelphia NewsWorks:

Philadelphia hoping to attract and keep best teachers with discount housing.


alm said...

The financing for that project - and any project! should get scrutiny, esp. when there are tax subsides at play.

But honestly, that stretch of Halsey was in really tough shape - abandoned, bombed-out buildings. I haven't heard anyone say anything but positive things about the prospect of more eyes on the street/revitalizing that stretch of Halsey.

I'm not sure what your objection is - the apartments aren't big enough for families, so QED it's a giveaway to TFA? The rental market in general leans toward younger single people - when folks start families they are often looking to buy something, be that a house, condo, etc.

Michael Fiorillo said...

Among the many dirty secrets of charters schools, which you ably demonstrate here, is that they are a real estate play, and one that has a symbiotic relationship with TFA.

With this project, TFAers can be kept in even greater isolation from the communities they use to polish their resumes, and which can presumably make it easier to maintain their cheeerleader/Stepford Wife outlook, while the Newark public schools are dismantled and given to profiteers.

mrs.missalaineus said...

meanwhile, the kids are still in abject poverty.......

Ron Bannon said...

I was just shown a unit on Maiden Lane, but I can not afford to live there. After 25 years as a college professor, I net barely enough to rent a tiny one bedroom apartment. The minimum was $1350/month, but add the essentials (nothing is included) on and the rent for a tiny one-bedroom is closer to $1500. The realtor told me that some of the younger teachers are doubling up to save money.

The paltry salary for a new teacher is sucked right back into the company store. They'll churn these units like dorms.