Shelter House opens 'housing first' project to combat chronic homelessness in Iowa City

Cross Park Place to house 24 residents, provide no requirements beyond typical lease


IOWA CITY — Amid a heated controversy over whether Iowa City’s Pedestrian Mall benches are designed to detract people who are homeless, Shelter House is debuting its own solution to chronic homelessness — Cross Park Place.

The new facility is a “housing first” model, operated with the mentality that stable housing should come before prerequisites such as addressing behavioral health issues or completing programs. Cross Park Place, which was debuted during an open house Wednesday, will begin filling its 24 single-occupancy apartments this month with residents who fall under the FUSE category.


FUSE stands for Frequent User System Engagement and refers to people who are caught in a cycle of jails, shelters, emergency rooms or other crisis services. The facility will offer common spaces such as a laundry room and an exam room for case workers, as well as health and behavioral health professionals.

“We can save lives and we can offer hope and opportunity for folks to change the entire trajectory of their lives,” said Crissy Canganelli, executive director of Shelter House. “This is where we choose to dedicate our time, to being part of a solution.”

So far, six future residents have completed paperwork and meet the definition of chronic homelessness. They’ll pay 30 percent of their income as rent and can live at Cross Park Place without expectations beyond that of a typical lease.

The project was awarded $2.7 million from the Iowa Finance Authority and another $463,000 from the Housing Trust Fund of Johnson County. Cross Park Place is a “demonstration project” — the first of its kind in the state, to state and nonprofit leaders’ knowledge.

“What we have done here is entirely replicable. Each community has its different nuances, its different strengths and challenges,” Canganelli said. “I hope that they’ll be inspired by this.”

Cross Park Place is just the latest in various affordable housing efforts by governments and nonprofits around the county, including an affordable housing mandate for new developments just south of downtown Iowa City and numerous donations to the county’s housing trust fund. The Iowa City area is the most expensive rental market in the state, with a two-bedroom apartment going for $956 a month in an area with more than 23,000 renter households, according to a National Low Income Housing Coalition report.


Thanks in part to high living expenses, 38 percent of Johnson County residents live in poverty or struggle to meet their basic needs. Sara Barron, executive director of the Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition, said while everyone needs an affordable place to live, her organization focuses on advocating for people making 80 percent or less of the area median income, which is nearly $60,000 a year for a single-person household, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“An easier way to think about it is, for a family who can only afford to pay $400 a month for rent, what options are available for them? For an older couple that’s trying to age successfully in our community who can afford $600 a month, what options are available for them? It’s only through looking at those groups and their specific needs that we can come up with the kind of strategies that will have the greatest impact,” Barron said.

The coalition has been advocating for local governments to be specific and intentional about the types of populations they’re trying to help with initiatives. However, Barron said there’s a different set of strategies and programs needed to address the challenges of a family at 80 percent of the area median income versus someone struggling to meet their basic needs every day.

“Both groups need affordable housing but the solutions our community needs to provide for those different groups varies. There’s not one single solution to housing everyone and meeting everyone’s needs,” Barron said.

A similar housing complex opened in Cedar Rapids last fall on Edgewood Road NW. The 45-unit Crestwood Ridge Apartments devotes 10 percent — or 5 — of its units for permanent housing for the chronically homeless. Other units in the complex are geared to other income levels. The complex provides on-site case management from Willis Dady Homeless Services.

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