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Improvisation on Social Housing Debates Post-Graduate Living

Improvisation on Social Housing Debates Post-Graduate Living

Theater of Public Policy’s improvisation troupe provided a short interpretation of the talk. Photo courtesy of Daniel Nguyen/Hofstra Chronicle. 

A multi-encompassing event hosted by the nationally recognized improvisation group Theater of Public Policy worked in collaboration with Hofstra’s Cultural Center and Honors College to address issues in development, housing for post-graduates and gentrification in a combined lecture, question and answer session and improvisation performance on Monday, April 16.

The lectures featured Hofstra sociology professor Christopher Niedt, the academic director of the Hofstra Center for Suburban Studies, and Simon Jawitz, a former finance professor and the current chief financial officer and head of real estate acquisition at Common, a co-living development group targeting recent grads.

As young college students graduate and transition into their new lives, questions arise as to what places to settle into, what factors to consider and how this affects the demographics in the area they choose to live in.

Niedt and Jawitz discussed these issues in their respective capacities. Niedt chose to comment on the sociological context of recent-graduate housing, while Jawitz touched on the financial particulars of his experience at Common.

“Millennials get a bad rap. Young college graduates certainly get a bad rap. Part of that, particularly in places like New York City and San Francisco, has been linked to the hipster, public health crisis we’re going through,” Niedt said. “When we look at recent college graduates and young professionals, one of the challenges they’re facing is how you do anything as a responsible member of a community. One of the first places I lived after graduate school was Crown Heights. I moved into the neighborhood partly because of its good location transit-wise but also because I was in a lot of debt. I needed cheap housing. Everything I saw in Manhattan and Brooklyn was out of my price range.”

Jawitz expanded on the effect recent graduates have on neighborhoods and small businesses. “One of the things people often don’t think about is how gentrification can have an impact on local businesses,” Jawitz said. “When we do events at Common, we try to include food and drink from around two square blocks, trying to do what we can to support the merchants who eventually get pushed out when the Starbucks shows up.”

Honors College Dean Vimala Pasupathi asked the first question of the following question and answer session. It was directed at Jawitz, inquiring about a principal benefit of Common residencies.

“I noticed that your buildings feature someone who comes in every week and cleans. Can the people you hire to clean afford to live in your buildings?” she asked. Jawitz said, “Most of our cleaners could not afford to live in our buildings. I will say that our cleaners are all employees of Common. We hire them, they work for Common. They participate in all the activities of Common. We pay them above market to the extent we can, so we’re doing what we can do. But unfortunately – and I wish it were different ­– we can’t necessarily work miracles.”

Afterward, the Theater of Public Policy’s improvisation troupe provided a short interpretation of the talk. The set ranged from scenes on secret public approval of gentrification to the difficulties of the roommate search.

As part of a broadcast news bit, the troupe said, “There’s a hipster public health crisis. It all started when the artists came into town. Right now, the hipsters are creeping into small little areas they can afford. Once you have hipsters, you’ll never get rid of them.”


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