Ground was broken Thursday in Iowa City on an apartment building for the chronically homeless, while construction continued in Cedar Rapids on new apartments that will house five homeless families.
“Access to safe, quality and affordable housing, and the supports necessary to maintain that housing, constitute one of the most basic and powerful social determinants of health,” Shelter House executive director Crissy Canganelli said at the Iowa City groundbreaking.
“Today is a demonstration that there is growing understanding and recognition that housing is not a privilege but that housing is indeed a right.”
The Iowa City project, called Cross Creek Park at 820 Cross Park Ave., will provide 24 one-bedroom apartments for the chronically homeless.
The Cedar Rapids project, at Crestwood Ridge Apartments at 1200 Edgewood Rd. NW, will have 45 units, with five units reserved for homeless individuals or families and 35 reserved for people earning less than 60 percent of the area’s median income.
The units should be open by September, with marketing and leasing beginning soon, according to Justin Eilers, senior project manager for CommonBond Communities, the Minnesota nonprofit developing the project.
Both projects exemplify a new approach to homelessness called Housing First or Rapid Re-Housing — where homeless people are moved as quickly as possible into housing so they can, with support, begin working on the problems that led to their homelessness.
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The approach offers “a permanent, supportive housing intervention, proven to save both money and lives,” Canganelli said at the groundbreaking.
Shelter House is funding the Iowa City project with $2.7 million from the Iowa Housing Authority and $463,000 from the Housing Trust Fund of Johnson County.
It’s hoped the new apartments will be available by the end of the year or in early 2019, Canganelli said.
She said Shelter House will use a vulnerability indexing tool to decide who gets the apartments — those most at risk of dying on the streets come first.
Leases will be for a year and will be renewable. Residents will be expected to meet with a case manager once a week.
The project’s focus is on the chronically homeless — those who have been homeless for a year or with four stints of homelessness in a three-year period and who are frequent “service users,” meaning they’ve had contact with police, hospitals, shelters or substance abuse facilities.
A study of four chronically homeless men in Johnson County found they cost taxpayers an average of $140,000 in unreimbursed services per year, Shelter House officials said last year. Breaking that cycle, they note, will save lives and money.
In Cedar Rapids, the homeless families moving into Crestwood Ridge Apartments also will meet with a case manager from Willis Dady Homeless Services.
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Phoebe Trepp, executive director of Willis Dady, said the nonprofit also is working on two other permanent-supportive housing projects: a house in the 1600 block of Washington Avenue SE that will be ready to rent, probably by the end of the year, and the addition of four units to its main shelter at 1247 Fourth Ave. SE. Those units should be available in the summer of 2019.
Trepp said the homeless families “may need more than just temporary financial assistance to help stabilize their health and themselves.”
The programs offer “a rental that’s able to be long-term, with on-site support that is geared toward people with multiple barriers.”
Shelter House did not have to go through a rezoning process, as was the case for the CommonBond project in Cedar Rapids, where there was considerable neighborhood opposition.
Canganelli said she’s only had a few phone calls from people wondering if Shelter House would rent the units to registered sex offenders. It won’t.
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