Challenges and Opportunities in Housing the Formerly Homeless

5 min read

Customizing solutions is the key to success, according to The NHP Foundation's Neal Drobenare.

Neal Drobenare

Creating enough affordable housing that is accessible to all the populations in need is an enormous challenge. Part of this task is customizing housing to fit subsets of the citizenry whose needs vary. If enough builders and developers, buoyed by Congressional and public support, opt to create this varied housing, many more seniors, families, veterans, those with disabilities and others will move from homelessness to housing.

NHPF will tackle the topic of engendering public support for housing that is affordable to more people at our 6th Annual Symposium, One Paycheck Away from Homelessness: Building Popular Support for Affordable Housing.

The following examples are of housing created and customized to address the needs of specific populations. Each property has also been accepted and even embraced by those in the local community, which was key to making it a success and a welcomed neighbor.

17 Mississippi

CVS Health invested $9.2 million to partner with NHPF to provide 41 units of affordable housing for families and individuals in in a much-needed area of Washington, D.C. The investment is part of CVS Health’s commitment to address racial inequity and social determinants of health in underserved communities.  

“When people have access to high-quality, affordable housing, it puts them in a better position to take care of their health and manage chronic disease,” said Keli Savage, head of Impact Investment Strategy, CVS Health. 

The resources brought together by this partnership ensure that residents at 17 Mississippi will enjoy new rental housing and amenities in a transforming affordable neighborhood. The building will offer a mix of one-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments to families and individuals with demonstrated need. Nine of the 41 units will provide permanent supportive housing for people who are experiencing homelessness or who need mental health support. Another nine units will have preference for income-qualified artists. All units are reserved for residents who earn at or below 50 percent of Area Median Income.

To help engender community support for the project, NHPF and partners sought and gained buy-in from the Advisory Neighborhood Commission in the ward and local councilman Trayon White. The partnership is also working with Community Connections, an experienced non-profit mental health agency, to provide residents with case management support, including life skills, counseling and homeless services, recovery and treatment programs, family and youth services and employment resources. The community is under construction with expected completion in mid-2023.

CVS Health is also exploring opportunities to expand its national workforce initiatives program in the area to help break the cycle of poverty by providing employment services and training to the community.

Magnificat

This Houston-based supportive housing development funded by the City of Houston, Harris County, Houston Housing Authority, the Texas GLO, TDHCA and local partners is a niche effort that presented many challenges. The housing is being developed for residents facing the most difficult circumstances—chronic homelessness— and for many, both addiction and mental health issues, physical health, and job readiness needs.

Offering extensive place-based supportive services helps these folks become self-sufficient in a city known for its commitment to ending homelessness in a state that often doesn’t have adequate funding for operating supportive services.

The key was spending time with local partners who were uniquely experienced in working with those living unhoused, a population with very particular needs. Their experience helped shape not only the supportive service programs, but the buildings themselves. These skilled local organizations offered wisdom and experience so that buildings can be constructed with respect and care. For example, our local partners encouraged input from future residents themselves on actual physical design of the property and to help set the culture of the building, which is essential for operating a development that is positive for the community and supportive to its chronically homeless residents.

Magnificat is unique in that 20 percent of the units are set aside for formerly homeless individuals currently living in transitional housing or group homes. Therefore, an interesting feature of the project is that 10 of these formerly homeless residents will have part time work as part of the supportive services teams where they will effectively function as “College RAs” but for the chronically homeless. This kind of opportunity within a housing community is an important part of future building planning.

The Mark Twain

In Chicago, preserving SRO (Single-Room Occupancy) hotels as PSH for particular populations is a high priority. And even though the mixed-use Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago is rapidly diversifying and gentrifying with pricey residential towers and retail, the community believed in the importance of restoring the beautiful art deco Mark Twain hotel to its former glory and housing those in need in its efficiency apartments.

Although many in the area may have wanted to see more multi-million dollar apartments and condos, early outreach to groups such as One Northside community organization, the City, HUD, CHA and the Chicago Community Loan Fund, resulted in positive support for the project. With aid from local groups and government organizations, the team was able to  prevent displacement of low-income residents and keep the area affordable for the many city employees and others currently paying well above 30 percent of their income to rent (“rent burdened”). The preservation of SROs continues to strengthen the fabric that holds Chicago together.

Today, the partnership that preserved the award-winning Mark Twain is proud to say they:

  • Provided 141 units of affordable housing at or below 60 percent AMI with seven units below 80 percent AMI for formerly homeless individuals or families, people with disabilities and singles
  • Set aside 20 percent for homeless housing, 20 percent for special needs, and up to 10 units available for State Referral Network (individuals who have a disability or illness, including but not limited to a physical, developmental or mental limitation, substance abuse disorder, HIV/AIDS, or who may be homeless or at risk of homelessness) 
  • Prevented permanent displacement of existing residents by handling every aspect of temporary relocation to housing comparable to The Mark Twain with most moving back into their restored units
  • Preserved rent affordability for very low-income individuals for the long term, as well as providing a service-enriched environment including health and wellness, financial assistance and job training

Neal Drobenare is senior vice president, The NHP Foundation.

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