As the only four-year college in the city, the University of the Pacific has recently taken steps to forge a stronger bond with the city and its residents. By all accounts, the university has become a strong community player through initiatives such as its Beyond Our Gates programs, encouraging student volunteerism and even having the basketball team wear pregame warmups reading “I heart Stockton.”
There is still, however, great opportunity for UOP to do even more for the city. While all of these initiatives show a commitment to the community, other universities have gone a step further. In many cities, private institutions are partnering with their respective cities to help bring faculty members back closer to campus. The Johns Hopkins University, for example, has been a strong leader in community development by financially incentivizing faculty to become homeowners in adjacent neighborhoods. If Pacific and the city of Stockton followed the example set in Baltimore, the impact could be significant for Stockton’s midtown neighborhoods that have been largely neglected.
In Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University is huge. It is the city’s largest employer. The second largest employer? Johns Hopkins Hospital. But despite its size and prestige, the areas surrounding Hopkins’ campuses and facilities have historically suffered from high crime, neglect and high vacancy rates. This juxtaposition gave Hopkins an “ivory tower” reputation of not caring about the community. Unfair or not, Hopkins has made a strong effort to leverage its size and workforce to try and breath new life into the surrounding areas. Teaming up with the city of Baltimore, Hopkins initiated a program known as live near your work. Under this program, Hopkins awards grants to employees who decide to purchase houses in nearby distressed neighborhoods. The thinking went, if Hopkins and the city incentivized faculty members to buy a home near the campus, these faculty members could come in and stabilize these neighborhoods. Moreover, the program helps cut down on commuting times for faculty members who might otherwise be driving in from the suburbs.
The grants, which are designated to help buyers with down payment and settlement costs, vary by neighborhood. Basically, the worse the neighborhood, the higher the grant. Grants can range anywhere from $3,000 for homes in more established areas or as high as $17,000 for homes in more distressed neighborhoods. So far, the program has awarded 300 grants, with more than 100 awarded since 2008 despite the depressed housing market. In addition to the grant money, the university also requires homebuyers to complete homeownership counseling to ensure buyers understand the responsibilities of homeownership. The university does not provide all the grant money themselves as Baltimore, the state of Maryland as well as various foundations contribute various amounts to the fund.
If UOP is serious about being a strong community partner in Stockton, officials should consider implementing a similar program here. Providing a pipeline of well educated, professional employees into these neighborhoods could have a tremendous impact in the communities surrounding UOP. According to the 2010 census, there are 1,075 vacant units in the census tracts surrounding the University below the Calaveras River. Some of these areas also suffer from higher crime rates and high foreclosure rates. Any stability that a live near your work program could provide would be critical in helping to revitalize these neighborhoods and make them more attractive to other homebuyers. As with the Hopkins program, Pacific could weight incentives by areas, targeting those neighborhoods that would benefit the most from an influx of well-to-do homebuyers. For example, the university could give higher awards for living south of Harding Way, closer to downtown, as this area is in more need of engaged homeowners than the Tuxedo Park neighborhood, which is more established.
In Stockton, UOP does not have quite as large of a presence as Hopkins does in Baltimore, but is still a substantial city institution, employing around 1,000. As the campus grows, more faculty will undoubtedly be needed, making UOP’s influence even greater. If the program proves successful, the city could partner with other large employers (such as Saint Joseph’s or Dameron Hospitals) to expand the program to open it up to more homebuyers.
Really, this policy has no downsides. If it works, more stable homeowners will enter the market for houses in older Stockton neighborhoods they may not have considered before, helping to bring stability to the area. Their new proximity to campus means fewer miles traveled, less traffic, and less pollution. UOP has done a lot to prove its commitment to the city of Stockton, and if it can come up with a program to team up with the city to bring faculty members into their neighborhoods, Pacific can truly prove that it does, in fact, heart Stockton.