The Better Block team was recently awarded a Knight Cities grant to convert excess housing stock in Akron, OH into a vibrant community center for the city’s thriving refugee committee. After multiple trips to survey the neighborhood and search for the perfect space, the team found their home and is beginning plans for its transformation.
The project, dubbed “The Exchange House,” will address multiple issues faced by the City of Akron today, including population declines, large numbers of residential vacancies, and a lowered tax base to maintain existing infrastructure. The project combats these trends by converting a vacant house in the North Hill neighborhood into a cultural hostel and gathering space. It works to exemplify the benefits of shared housing while reducing the negative side effects experienced in rapidly transforming areas.
While much of the population is declining, a vibrant refugee community exists in the North Hill neighborhood, which presents an opportunity to build and ascend through the culture that is unique to the neighborhood. The Exchange House would be programmed according to the refugee population’s traditions, and allow existing immigrants to invite community members to remain in Akron, providing a place for the non-immigrant community to stay and engage with its new population. Once complete, the project will provide a space that creates invitations for additional immigrants to temporarily reside in
the North Hill neighborhood, transfer skills, and bridge barriers between communities.
Working closely with the Knight Foundation, the International Institute, and the Bhutanese Community Association of Akron, the Better Block team began cataloging potential foreclosed homes and meeting with city officials to begin the process of gaining access to a proposed site. An area architect, whose family were refugees, is working with the team to help with the renovation and revitalization of the home.
Keep up with the project at www.theexchangehouse.org