Diversity is a core challenge for both the tech community and gentrifying neighborhoods. A new project in Boston seeks find a solution to both by transforming a turn-of-the-century home into a different kind of tech incubator.
[G]Code House aims to be a tech space more focused on developing new talent as opposed to just new businesses. Co-founders Bridgette Wallace and Carolle Nau hope that by turning a circa-1900 home in a historic district in the Roxbury neighborhood into a home for young women of color who code, they can help these women advance their careers and contribute to a more diverse tech scene, all while mitigating some of the gentrification pressure that’s impacted the neighborhood.
“This is our version of workforce housing,” says Nau. “You’re working your way out of here.”
Wallace, an urban planner, and Nau, a creative director, want [G]Code House to fill in a gap. While volunteering at a homeless shelter last summer that featured a program teaching young women how to code, the two founders saw talent and drive, as well as the economic barriers that hold promising careers back. Many of these young students interested in tech would likely age out of existing support and temporary housing programs.
“We want to catch these women that are aging out of other programs and give them another platform,” says Wallace.
[G]Code House would help these girls, and complement and expand upon the work of existing organizations, such as Black Girls Code. The 5,000-square-foot home in the historic Garrison Trotter neighborhood, which Nau and Wallace purchased in 2015, will be turned into a residence for up to 15 young women who have graduated high school and show an interest in STEM fields, especially coding.
While staying at the home for up to two years, the women at [G]Code House will gain experience and grow their networks. They’ll start by taking classes, then internships, and finally gain jobs within the Boston tech community.
Currently in the midst of a capital campaign, planning, and community outreach the two founders hope to open as soon as next year. The design blueprints, developed with architects from the local office of Sasaki, will modernize the old Victorian home filled with period woodwork and rustic fireplaces, turning the basement into a media lab while transforming the adjoining 2,000-square-foot coach house into a meeting space and networking hub.
Providing both housing and career development for communities under-represented in the tech world is much more valuable than an incubator, according to Wallace and Nau. As recent as 2015, African-American women held only 3 percent of tech jobs.
“[These students] need to have a launching pad where your confidence is built up, because you’re going into a place where people are going to question your abilities,” says Wallace. “You need a place to develop those networks, and to develop the strength to say, ‘I belong here, and this is a space I need to be.’”
The project also seeks to help develop economic opportunities for the neighborhood and its long-time residents. The Wallace and Nau co-founded SkyLab, a nonprofit that serves the small business community, and Nau, who grew up in Roxbury and whose parents have lived in the neighborhood for 60 years, has seen the area shift rapidly. They believes it’s important to help a community in transition and push for inclusion, opportunity, and equity.
“There’s rapid change here, and this sort of double marketing message,” says Nau. “Many long-time residents hear that it’s unsafe, while others are told this is the place to be, it’s the center of the universe.”
The [G]Code House concept is modeled after settlement houses, which offered housing for young women moving into cities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Wallace said they especially want to honor the memory of Victoria Matthews, a freed slave who began the White Rose Mission in New York City, which trained hundreds of women over the years in which the home was opened. She feels that in any era, it’s vital to connect issues of housing and economic opportunity.