Written by Casey Lauderdale, Social Venture Network, @Radiant_City
Bob Massaro and Bonny Meyer are in the business of community building, but it may not be what you think- they aren’t community organizers or political activists in the sense normally associated the phrase “community building.” Rather, they literally build communities. Together they’ve founded Thriving Communities, a real estate development company that designs and builds housing on the principals of people, planet, and prosperity, creating not just housing, but multiple layers of good.
Bob’s journey to co-founding Thriving Communities began with a constant feeling of insecurity brought on by the poor design of his childhood housing. Cheap post-WW2 structures, called by one housing official as “warehousing for people who need housing the most”, were built with poor insulation and building materials and characterized by crime.
Bob first entered into the healthcare field, but later switched to housing development, bringing a unique understanding of the importance of healthy and environmentally-safe building materials.
Bonny started out as a wine-maker, co-founding Silver Oak Cellars in Napa and later Meyer Family Cellars. Upon selling Silver Oak, she took an interest in both investment and philanthropy and later discovered a way to marry the two through impact investing, where she could support companies that were aligned with her values.
After meeting Bob and co-founding Thriving Communities, LLC, Bonny discovered something uniquely positive to housing development: that investment in housing is real. It provides a physical asset that impacts lives and can’t vanish in the same way, for instance, a technology company can.
The impact of affordable, healthy homes is also very real for the many working families and seniors who now live in a Thriving Communities’ development. The company builds for those who need affordable housing and their homes are typically priced at 10-15% below market rate. They are ADA accessible and designed so that people can grow old in their homes. Rent-to-own programs also support long-term occupancy and owner-investment in the community.
The buildings are constructed without harmful and toxic materials, which means that children are less likely to miss school from illness due to asthma or allergies. The materials and construction process that is used also greatly contributes to economic savings for the company, investors, and, of course, the residents. Their construction partner, Healthy Buildings, can complete projects in 40% less time than traditional methods, and their result is net-zero energy homes with lower water consumption. With no electrical bill and a smaller water bill coupled with lower rents, residents have more disposable income to put back into the local economy.
Finally, the projects are designed to foster community. Parking is placed a short walk from housing, rather than in front of homes, so that front doors open up to community space. Everything is designed to produce more encounters between neighbors – from the on-site community center to including open porches in front of homes – in order to foster relationships.
With this model Thriving Communities provides a stronger foundation for hard working individuals and families and is helping to build robust, healthier communities. When communities are strong, the ripple effects into the wider society are significant- it creates multiple layers of good.