Low-income renters love their landlord

Georgia landlord Margaret Stagmeier has found an “education model with a housing solution,” suggesting that community is essential to the success of students.

Stagmeier purchased Willow Branch Apartments in DeKalb County in 1996 and has vowed to keep rent low for her mostly immigrant residents, who pay $618 per month—less than subsidized housing, Education Dive reports.

But there are other perks to living at the apartment complex adjacent to Indian Creek Elementary School. With rent comes a free after-school program for students in grades K–5, which is making a significant positive impact on the roughly 80 children who participate.

“Just like kids would go to the pool, they go to the after-school program,” Stagmeier said.

Students file into the apartment complex’s former leasing office after school on weekdays to work on homework, or practice for the Georgia Milestones assessments using an electronic Study Buddy device, according to the news site.

Program manager Allie Reeser provides juice and chips, reads books with students, and helps them with their studies. And while the effort is helping to improve academic performance and neighborhood stability, Stagmeier said there’s other practical benefits to her business, as well.

Left to their own devices, kids would break sprinkler heads or litter the apartment grounds with trash, but with the after-school program students are studying and focused on their homework instead.

Stagmeier spends $3,000 to run the program, but saves three times that amount on maintenance, she said.

The landlord also pointed to the strong connections between student achievement, neighborhood safety, and smart business.

“It’s hard to get investors to invest in blight,” she told Education Dive. “And if you have a blighted apartment community, there’s a 100 percent chance you have a failing school.”

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, wrote about the connections between school and community and the implications for character education in The Death of Character.

“In a milieu where the school, youth organizations, and the larger community share a moral culture that is integrated and mutually reinforcing; where the social networks of adult authority are strong, unified, and consistent in articulating moral ideas and their attending virtues; and where adults maintain a ‘caring watchfulness’ over all aspects of a young person’s maturation, moral education can be effective,” Hunter wrote.

By truly caring for her residents, Stagmeier is building trust with families, providing stability for students, and modeling the kind of care and concern that make tenants love their neighborhood and their landlord.

Stagmeier also offers support through her Star-C non-profit for real estate investors and landlords who want to start similar after-school programs for their residents.