Nonprofits Consider COVID Funds to Support Affordable Housing

GREENFIELD – Faced with a shortage of affordable housing, some local nonprofits are hoping that funding from the American Rescue Plan can help them.

“It’s terrible, to be honest,” said Linda Ostewig, director of Talitha Koum Recovery House, of the need for affordable housing in Hancock County. She said a housing shortage has caused many women following Talitha Koum’s drug recovery program to search in vain for a place to live for months or even years.

The county will receive about $ 15.6 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, which President Joe Biden signed in March. He hopes to invest the money mainly in nonprofit groups and infrastructure, and Ostewig hopes this could give a boost to the creation of affordable connected housing in Talitha Koum.

Ostewig said many of the women she works with have full-time jobs but still can’t pay rent. As many of them have children, they seek homes with at least two bedrooms and some have evictions or criminal convictions on their record that may put off owners.

“It’s rare that you can find a two-bedroom apartment for $ 650,” she said.

People who participate in the program usually have strong ties to Hancock County, but Ostewig said the high cost of living prevents them from staying in the community.

“I had two daughters who had to leave the county and they had jobs here,” she said, adding that one of them was recently hired by the Hancock Regional Hospital after getting her medical assistant certificate.

Ostewig said she would like to find a property to buy that could be converted into affordable apartments that women could rent at a lower cost than market-priced units, transitional housing that would allow them to remain tied to Talitha Koum. but to live independently and with their children. She would also consider buying several houses which could be divided into apartments.

With real estate values ​​in Greenfield so high, Ostewig said she didn’t expect to be able to pay the full cost of a real estate purchase with ARP money, but it could provide an initial boost that would show that the project is viable and allow it to solicit donations.

Keely Butrum, a county council member who is part of the committee studying how to use ARP money, said nothing was official yet and the county has been waiting for months to receive final guidance on how whose federal dollars can be used.

In a recent study, an organization focused on housing affordability found that Hancock County does not have the housing units necessary for people in its lowest income quarter to find a place to live.

The Prosperity Indiana report found that statewide there are 37 affordable housing units available for every 100 households in the lowest income category. In addition, 72% of tenants in the lowest income group are “severely cost burdened” because they spend half or more of their income on rent.

In Hancock County, there are only about 26 affordable housing units available for every low-income household, and 78% of low-income renters have been hit hard by the costs.

The director of another nonprofit, Andrea Mallory of Hancock Hope House, agreed that the high cost of rent and low availability of housing have become a growing problem. Mallory said this resulted in people staying at Hope House – the county’s shelter for the homeless and people in transition – for longer periods of time, even when in jobs that would once have allowed them to pay. easily a rent.

“You could have $ 10,000 in savings and no one can find where to go,” she said.

Mallory said she recently went with a resident to look for a potential place to rent – a hotel room that would cost $ 900 a month.

An affordable housing complex operated by a nonprofit could be a potential solution, Mallory said, but it should be large, ideally with 50 to 100 units. She said the unmet need for affordable housing in Hancock County is greater than many realize, with many residents avoiding homelessness by moving into living spaces with extended family members. cramped.

Until then, Mallory said, some will likely continue to stay at Hope House for extended periods of time.

“We can’t kick them out just because they can’t find a place to go,” she said.

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