Fannie Mae Foundation

Spring 2000 Volume 1 Issue 1
Build It and They Will Come ... If You Target Them Correctly

AZALEA PARK, San Diego, California In the early 1990s, the ocean breeze that fanned pleasantly through the canyons of Azalea Park also blew trash around empty lots and the area's graffiti-marred public spaces. Its housing stock was old and architecturally interesting, but the houses were small and many were vacant.

In 1994, resident activist Linda Pennington sat on her porch after a Saturday of painting over graffiti with her husband and a few neighbors and remarked how great it would be if members of the San Diego gay community would move in. She had observed that Hillcrest, a neighborhood in San Diego popular with homosexual couples, seemed to suddenly prosper and thrive.

That was the start of an effort to target market a group of potential homeowners that has been "wildly successful," said Pennington, whose efforts sent her and other residents to Gay Pride marches to set up booths and actively recruit homosexuals to move to Azalea Park.

They made a match between having not-so-great schools but a good housing stock and the thought that if they offered an environment that was welcoming to this particular population households with no children and reasonably high incomes it could have a revitalizing effect on the neighborhood.

The target marketing worked. Since 1994, the gay population of Azalea Park has increased dramatically, occupying 100 of the 800 housing units.

Almost immediately, houses started getting fresh coats of paint, arts retail opened, commercial spaces were restored and filled, and major private and public investment began proliferating, including the building of a local junior high school, a recreation center, a theater, a continuing education center, and a new police substation.

"It's obvious that something dramatic has happened here," Pennington said, noting that the soaring national economy is also a factor. "Our crime rate has dropped 49 percent since 1993. In 1994 we busted 17 drug houses. Now we're down to zero. It wasn't just this one thing inviting in a group of people who not only appreciate the invitation but have the time and resources to invest in our community but it was definitely a great move."