Debra Myles was a young mother of three children when she moved her family into Park Haven Apartments in Brooklyn Park, Minn. She was struggling—working overtime at the bank—just to put food on the table. Then she was laid off.

She visited the community's compliance officer, who told her about an empowerment program at the on-site learning center. She also attended a family strengths program and eventually even became a building captain—all while she was seeking employment.

“These efforts have helped to encourage her as well as build on her current talents and skills, making her a more valuable member of the workforce,” says GillEtte Williams, Park Haven's resident services director. “Ms. Myles now has a new focus, is ready for new challenges. Today she's going on a job interview.”

Williams continues: “Our success is measured by the quality of life, and our goal is to motivate change in the lives of our residents by focusing on building a stronger community day by day.”

LEARNING CURVE: On-site programs help stabilize residents' lives and rental communities. Here Gillette Williams, resident services director for Park Haven, works with resident Debra Myles.
LEARNING CURVE: On-site programs help stabilize residents' lives and rental communities. Here Gillette Williams, resident services director for Park Haven, works with resident Debra Myles.

Building a safe, sustainable, and profitable community of low-income or Section 8 multifamily housing can be a challenge. Crime, nonpayment of rent, high tenant turnover, and vandalism are just a few of the problems facing managers—and residents—of these developments.

But learning centers, which promote individual education, personal responsibility, and civic pride, can stabilize communities and keep operating costs in check. These on-site facilities host after-school programs, personal growth opportunities, and renter education classes that not only improve the community, but also improve the bottom line by dramatically reducing tenant turnover, maintenance costs, and nonpayment issues.