The idea for the Exchange House was conceived during a two-day Better Block in the North Hill neighborhood of Akron, Ohio. The project showcased ways in which the neighborhood could be made better—from bike lanes to pop-up shops to rethinking the use of old buildings. The Better Block team spent 90 days working with the community to bring its dreams to reality. During that time, Jason Roberts, Founding Director of the Better Block Foundation, got to know several of the Bhutanese refugees. He was inspired by the baby-naming ceremony he was invited to attend and the conversations that took place over tea. “What if,” he wondered, “we could take one of the empty houses in the neighborhood, and show that it can be used as an office space, a cultural exchange, and as a revenue stream to offset costs?” The idea was to turn one of the floors into rooms that can be rented out via Airbnb and create a bottom floor that was open to programming—ESL classes, sewing classes, space for board meetings, and even just a space to share conversations over tea.
The Exchange House, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is just that. “We aim to show that if you build a space for love and you invite people in, then you make a stronger community,” Roberts says.
The Exchange House demonstrates how an empty space can be converted to have a mix of uses: an office, a cultural space, and a revenue-generating component through renting out rooms. The house serves as a welcoming center for local residents resettling into the neighborhood, provides respite for travelers, and serves as an office to meet the needs of the immigrant population looking to re-establish its roots.
We have created a manual, which you can find here, that presents insight about how the Exchange House was opened, and how it operates now. It’s important to note that the Exchange House was born out of a unique neighborhood identity. With these tips and best practices, you’ll be able to open your own community-driven house.