Elena Lozina, SonderWorks

When several market-rate residents at WC Smith’s 2M Street mixed-income property expressed misconceptions about the affordable housing program in the building, the Washington, D.C.–based firm knew it had to address their concerns.

The 12-story building, located in Washington, D.C.’s NoMa neighborhood, is part of the city’s New Communities Initiative, a local government program designed to revitalize severely distressed subsidized housing. Ninety-three affordable units, with 59 units set aside for residents of a former public housing complex, were included in the 314-unit community.

Although rents from apartment to apartment differ, the market-rate and affordable units are indistinguishable from one another and boast the same features and finishes. As a result, select market-rate tenants didn’t understand why “they had to live next to people paying less rent than they did.”

WC Smith jumped at the chance to clear the air with their “What 2M Means 2 Me” marketing campaign, where the firm decided to give a face and a voice to a resident who lived in one of the affordable housing units. Lisa, a three-year resident at the time, agreed to tell her story in a short video. In the video, she shared how she had dreamed about residing in a “loving and peaceful building like 2M” and while she appreciated the building’s amenities, she valued “peace of mind” and the “safe haven” the most.

Lisa’s video was posted on the building’s blog site on Oct. 1, 2017, and immediately proved successful, with a decrease in the number of online complaints about the affordable housing. In addition to the positive responses, WC Smith saw a 61% increase in traffic in the month of October and an 800% increase in Facebook traffic.

From there, the company invited all residents, including market-rate renters, to share their housing experiences, and the video series evolved into an outpouring of stories with 2M as the common denominator. “We wanted to make clear that 2M was a place that all people, from a range of incomes, can call home, erasing or at least minimizing the ‘have and have-not’ concept that could negatively affect our residents and the building overall,” says the company.

The campaign eventually ran as a contest, and winning stories were posted to the 2M website and social media channels, with winners receiving an American Express gift card and a professional photo shoot. The total cost of What 2M Means 2 Me was roughly $4,000 and was not a campaign aimed to affect lease-up, due to it being a stabilized property. However, the firm reports it reduced turnover by 32% quarter over quarter and created a welcoming community for all.