Units for elderly planned at school site
DAVE GONG - The Journal Gazette
New development projects, expanded Internet services and changes to application guidelines are all part of the Fort Wayne Housing Authority’s plans for 2016.
Two construction projects meant to provide permanent supportive housing for residents with disabilities and to expand housing options for the elderly are in the works, George Guy, the housing authority’s executive director, said. The authority also has plans to expand educational opportunities and is exploring changes to federal application guidelines.
The Fort Wayne Housing Authority provides affordable housing and other services to more than 3,500 low-income Fort Wayne families. The agency manages 754 public housing units and 3,099 units under the Housing Choice Voucher program. There are also about 9,000 people on the housing authority’s public housing and Housing Choice Voucher waiting list.
The elderly housing project is slated for the Hillcrest School on Tillman Road next to the housing authority’s administrative office. The housing authority owns the school, Guy said, and wants to keep the existing architecture, while renovating the inside to provide amenities geared specifically toward elderly residents. The FWHA has not yet chosen a site for the planned supportive housing project.
Work on the developments is expected to start in 2017, Guy said.
Although it does not yet have a cost estimate for the two projects, Guy said the housing authority plans to apply for state tax credits in November to support the developments. The authority will also attend a supportive housing institute later this year to prepare for the challenge of operating such a facility.
“The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority wants to make sure that before (housing authorities) do supportive housing projects, they have an idea of what supportive housing means in terms of providing support on that housing and dealing with the population you’re planning on dealing with,” Guy said.
According to the Corporation for Supportive Housing website, the institute “will help supportive housing partners learn how to navigate the complex process of developing housing with support services and is expected to reduce the time it takes to obtain funding for supportive housing by improving the planning and development processes.”
The institute also provides training, technical assistance and the opportunity to apply for pre-development financing.
Plans for the Hillcrest School development are further along than the supportive housing project. But while Guy said that many of the Hillcrest School project details are still up in the air, he said the authority plans to install 35 to 45 units inside the building.
Funding is going be a challenge, Guy said.
“We’re going to try to engage some of the (Hillcrest School) alumni, maybe name the building after someone, and apply for some historic tax credits,” he said. “There’s been a big push for that. We want to make sure that out of that preservation, we secure some historic tax credits.”
Tax credits for historic buildings would help alleviate a certain percentage of the cost of saving and rehabilitating an historic building.
Guy said the authority is working with ARCH, a local organization that strives to preserve Fort Wayne’s historic architecture, and architecture firm Martin Riley on the Hillcrest School project.
IPFW’s Andy Downs, co-chair of the FWHA Resident Board, said funding will be the primary challenge for the Hillcrest School renovations.
“We’re going to try to respect the architecture if we can, and that brings some opportunities and some challenges,” Downs said. “But like every developer, it comes down to what the cost is per square foot and what revenue can be generated by the renovations.”
Resident Commissioner Constance Causey, who has been on the board since 1997, supports the Hillcrest School project.
“As an older citizen of Fort Wayne, I’m proud to say they are going to try to fix it up for the elderly because the baby boomers – I’m one of them – are all turning 60 now or very close to it,” Causey said. “There’s going to be a lot of need for elderly housing, so they’re spot on.”
As the year progresses, much focus will go into making administrative processes easier for residents and increasing access to resources and services, Guy said. That includes creating a tenant portal, which will allow applicants to check the status of their application online and residents to post rent without having to go to the administrative office on Hanna Street. It also means opening a new resource center at the former Boys and Girls Club facility at McCormick Place.
“At most of our sites we have computer labs as well, so if residents don’t have broadband access, we can try to bridge that digital divide by having computers on site for residents in our communities,” Guy said. “There are four computers at each site, so when they want to do these things and don’t have access at home, they can go into the community rooms to do that.”
At the new resource center, FWHA will partner with Ivy Tech and IPFW, as well as other community agencies and colleges to offer GED and continuing education classes for residents.
“We recognize that our residents are challenged, many are working but can’t seem to buy these extra amenities,” Guy said. “We try to share those as much as we can with our residents.”
The resource center will be ready within the next several weeks, Guy said, and a full list of services will be available at the site once it opens.
In addition to new developments, Housing and Urban Development has relaxed some guidelines in its Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy, Guy said.
Until recently, HUD mandated that, depending on the crime, anyone with misdemeanor arrests will be denied access to housing for five years; 10 years for felony arrests. Moving forward, the housing authority will look at misdemeanor and felony convictions only when determining whether to deny an individual’s application. HUD has also loosened guidelines regarding how long a person could be denied access to housing because of a past criminal record.
“What they’re doing is giving us some flexibility, making it less stringent,” Guy said. “They’re giving some of that decision-making to us, but at the same time making sure there are some guidelines in place.”
Guy stressed there is a grievance process if an application is denied. The guidelines are not set in stone and often circumstances can be judged on a case-by-case basis.
Downs and Causey said they are pleased with the progress FWHA is making and the authority’s plans for the future.
“Everything the FWHA does is for the residents, so I’m behind that,” Causey said.
For the full article, please visit http://www.journalgazette.net/news/local/2-projects-top-big-year-ahead-in-city-housing-11823746
Photo by Chad Ryan