In the winter of 2017, Better Block announced the opening of the Exchange House, an Airbnb and cultural exchange project in Akron’s North Hill neighborhood.
The Exchange House works to engage the international community that exists in Akron, Ohio, and to provide a space that invites additional immigrants to share with the North Hill neighborhood, transfer skills, and bridge barriers between communities.
The idea for the project was conceived during a two-day Better Block, which showcased ways in which the neighborhood could be made better—from bike lanes to pop-up shops to rethinking the use of old buildings, Roberts, founder of the Better Block Foundation, got to know several of the Bhutanese refugees. He was inspired by the baby-naming ceremony he was invited to attend and the conversations that took place over tea. “What if,” he wondered, “we could take one of the empty houses in the neighborhood, and show that it can be used as an office space, a cultural exchange, and as a revenue stream?” The idea was to turn one of the floors into rooms that can be rented out via Airbnb and create a bottom floor that was open to programming—ESL classes, sewing classes, space for board meetings, and even just a space to share conversations over tea.
The Exchange House did just that. In 2019, ownership was transfered back into the community to continue its mission in the hands of neighbors.