Drexel Awarded $1 Million NSF Grant for Arts-Centered Model for Intergenerational Co-Housing

Grant will support Drexel's Second Story Collective, an arts-centered model for intergenerational co-housing, focused on affordable homeownership in West Philadelphia
Village Square at Haverford in Mantua (WRT Design)

Second Story Collective, a collaborative venture of Drexel’s Writers Room, announced today that its Placekeeping project has received a $1 million Civic Innovation Challenge (CIVIC) Stage 2 Award from the National Science Foundation—in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The 2SC project is funded through NSF’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE).  

The Second Story Collective (2SC) team is the only group of NSF Civic Innovation awardees addressing inequities in housing. The NSF award will support 2SC’s implementation of a one-year pilot, “The Co-Creation of an Intergenerational Network of Homesharers in West Philadelphia.” 

“Our pilot explores a community-driven civic innovation through a multi-generational co-housing model that uses the arts to cohere diverse communities,” said Ayana Allen-Handy, PhD, principal investigator, associate professor and interim department chair in Drexel’s School of Education. “Our placekeeping strategy aims to preserve homeownership for long-term residents, create affordable opportunities for new homebuyers, and reduce student housing costs.”

The pilot was developed in partnership with the Mantua Civic Association and focuses on Village Square on Haverford, Lomax Real Estate Partners’ $65 million multi-use development. After meeting with Rachel Wenrick, co-principal investigator and executive director for Arts & Civic Innovation in Drexel’s Office of University Community Partnerships, Charles Lomax, CEO, saw the potential for intergenerational co-living to make homeownership more accessible for communities that have historically been systemically excluded from the housing market, including people of color.

“This is an opportunity to change the narrative of university-adjacent development from one of displacement of long-term residents to engagement and community building,” said Charles Lomax. “And we have the team around the table to do it.” Led by the Justice-oriented Youth (JoY) Education Lab with co-principal investigator and associate professor in Drexel’s School of Education, Christopher Wright, PhD, the community-driven participatory action research team includes residents, university and high school students, civic leaders, artists, activists and a local developer. 

This group of collaborators will spend the next year moving the project forward. The pilot will be launched in Mantua, a historically Black and rapidly gentrifying neighborhood that is also one of the country’s most impoverished. This award recognizes the potential of the 2SC model to be replicated throughout the United States.

Affordable housing is a pervasive nation-wide concern which disproportionately impacts Black Americans. In the wake of the pandemic, surging costs for housing, as well as food, gas, and other necessities have made the problem more dire.

The project took its shape when a founding member of Writers Room — Drexel’s university-community arts program — was displaced after the owner of their building illegally sold it to developers, who then converted it to student apartments. The group realized they could do more than write together. They could meaningfully support one another.

“Through this work, we are seeing how public arts programming strengthens civic infrastructure and promotes civic innovation,” said Wenrick. “This is arts-centered community action at work – and it’s powerful.”