Longform Digital Journalism

Client: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Build Healthy Places Network (a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) asked us to write a series of longform essays illustrating the deep connection between health and place. The essays combine compelling narrative with photography, video, and infographics—allowing readers multiple entry points into each story.

I found your essays compelling and cogent, your editing spot-on, and your knowledge of the issues unparalleled.”

W. Bradford WilcoxAssociate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia

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A New Generation of Affordable Housing

By Natalie Orenstein

Velma Calvin rests her elbow on the white stucco wall that surrounds her patio. She gazes out at a walkway and its adjacent play structure, basketball court, and swimming pool. They sit empty now, but in a few hours the children who live in her apartment complex will come crashing home from school in a tornado of bikes and basketballs.

Later, while prepping spaghetti for dinner, Calvin will slip back out to the patio to check on the kids. “I can look all the way down there and see them riding their bikes,” she says.

By 65, Calvin had hoped her child-rearing days would be long behind her. Instead, she finds herself with custody of her two great-grandchildren, Laylah, 10, and Nazir, 6. When they were young, their mother moved to Florida, leaving the kids with a relative and a dwindling supply of diapers. Their grandmother, who is Calvin’s daughter, was battling addiction and was also unable to raise them.

“Those are my babies,” Calvin says of Laylah and Naz. “I did what I had to do because I’d never let them go into the system.”

The three live together at the Grandfamilies Place of Phoenix, a 55-unit affordable housing complex for grandparents and other older relatives raising children. The residence is part of a growing effort by some developers to design housing that improves the mental and physical health of those in grandfamilies, and the well-being of the community at large.

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