Shelter House Paves the Way for New Housing First Development
An Iowa City homelessness agency officially opened its latest “housing first” development Thursday. Refuge HouseProject 501 will ultimately provide long-term supportive housing for chronically homeless people, regardless of their drug or alcohol use. Funders say affordable housing “will save both money and lives.”
Shelter House staff are hopeful that Project 501 will soon house 36 men and women. Once built, one-bedroom apartments can become a permanent residence, if that’s what tenants choose.
The development will provide long-term affordable housing for residents who need shelter the most. More than a roof over their heads, residents will also receive case management services, including assisted living and on-site check-ins with health care providers and mental health counselors.
The units are reserved for people considered “chronically homeless”, a technical classification that involves repeated or prolonged periods of homelessness as well as one or more diagnosed disabilities.
Apartments will cost 30 percent of a renter’s income, regardless of their income.
“No more than 30 percent of their income,” said Crissy Canganelli, executive director of Shelter House. “And if the income is zero, it sucks.”
Canganelli says the rent cap is made possible through a partnership with the Iowa City Housing Authority, which provided vouchers for the project.
Potential tenants will be identified through a coordinated process in which service providers in Johnson and Washington counties will identify eligible clients and prioritize them based on the acuteness of their needs.
The project will follow the Housing First model, which “does not place housing conditions on the behavior of participants, but rather provides subsidized housing with the continued opportunity to participate in support services,” according to the website. Shelter House.
While other agencies make certain conditions such as sobriety or employment a prerequisite to be eligible for housing, the Housing First model postulates that residents will be better equipped to achieve their other goals once their basic housing needs will be met.
Canganelli says the approach has been “proven to save both money and lives”; that of the agency statistics on his Place du Parc de la Croix units, another Housing First development, show tenants have seen a dramatic decrease in interactions between law enforcement and emergency rooms.
“It ranges from about 70 to about 90 percent, depending on the schedule, a decrease in criminal justice involvement. So nights in prison. And we’re not talking about 25 nights for two or anything like that. It’s thousands of nights until… minimal, ”Canganelli said.
Meanwhile, tenants are seeking routine preventative health care at much higher rates.
“What we are seeing is an increasing use of continuing care and preventive care and regular health services that you want people to engage in to feel good and respond to their health issues, but decreases really substantial in the emergency health system, ”Canganelli mentioned.
In addition to statistical analysis, Canaganelli says access to permanent, reliable and affordable housing has fundamentally changed the way residents move around the world.
“I wish we had taken before and after photos,” Canganelli said, “just seeing people there is such a fundamental difference, and that’s what I meant, like at the cellular level there is has such a fundamental difference in people’s appearance, behaviors, just their physicality.
Construction of the 36 one-bedroom apartments is expected to be completed in May. If the work remains on schedule, the tenants should be able to move in next June.