COLUMBUS, OHIO - Five miles from the city of Columbus in the small suburb of Briggsdale are two buildings that at first glance look like they’re part of a farm residence. On closer inspection, the buildings actually are a new permanent supportive housing development of 35 single-room occupancy (SRO) units.

The design of the Briggsdale Apartments, developed by nonprofit Community Housing Network, Inc. (CHN), was chosen by its neighbors to preserve the spirit of the original Briggs farm that once dominated the area.

As a 20-year developer of permanent supportive housing, CHN knows that NIMBY issues are a matter of course. The organization routinely sets up a Community Advisory Council early in the process to anticipate concerns and involve the neighborhood in planning the development. “Since it was on land that had been a farm, the council worked with the architect and chose a design that looks a lot like a farm,” said Susan Weaver, CHN’s executive director.

The apartments target those who have been disabled by mental illness or substance addiction, and who have histories of chronic homelessness. Of the 35 SRO units, seven are for those earning up to 35 percent of the AMI, and 28 units are for those earning up to 39 percent of the AMI.

In reality, these income limits are not even close to what tenants earn. “Most of the people that live in the building, their incomes are more like 15 percent of AMI,” said Weaver. “Many people come in with no income at all.”

Construction began July 2005 and was completed February 2006. Units leased up in 30 days, not surprising considering that the waitlist for the 1,200 units CHN owns or leases is more than 2,000 people long. “As fast as we can create units, there are more people that need them,” Weaver said.

Twenty-five units are filled by chronically homeless people with mental disabilities, and 10 are occupied by those disabled with mental illness but who have not been homeless.

CHN received much community support for the development. The Ohio Housing Finance Agency provided $750,000 in capital, and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati’s Affordable Housing Program brought $112,000 to the table. Additionally, the city of Columbus pitched in $250,000 in HOME funds; Franklin County gave $250,000, split equally between HOME and CDBG funds; and HUD pitched in $400,000 through its McKinney Vento program, which focuses on the chronically homeless.

The project received $2 million in equity from LIHTCs that were syndicated by the Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing.

CHN partnered with mental health care provider Southeast, Inc., to provide supportive services, including mental health and chemical dependency counseling, family reconciliation, and life skills programs such as financial literacy, as well as linkages to medical, dental, and legal services.

CHN provides daytime operations and social services staff, and subcontracts Southeast to provide 24-hour on-site staffing, including a case manager who helps coordinate services, and a licensed practical nurse.

There’s an on-site computer lab with six systems available to residents, who also have access to CHN’s Employment Center, which helps residents develop professional skills, get their GEDs, and find jobs. The facilities also contain a community room and community kitchen.

Additional project information, as provided in application by the nominator.

Q. Why does the nominated project deserve to be recognized based on the award criteria of this contest?

A.Community Housing Network, Inc. (CHN) is a nonprofit developer, owner, and manager of supportive housing, providing specialized property management services and rent subsidies to people with disabilities. Briggsdale Apartments provides permanent supportive rental apartments for individuals with disabled by mental illness, substance addiction, or histories of chronic homelessness. Briggsdale is part of the nationally recognized Rebuilding Lives Program, a collaborative, communitywide effort coordinated by the Community Shelter Board to end chronic homelessness in Columbus/Franklin County, Ohio.

Briggsdale Apartments provides links to social, health, and employment services. The housing model has proven to be a successful environment for disabled or homeless individuals who have otherwise been unable to maintain housing. Briggsdale offers a stable living environment and the opportunity to receive treatment, find work, maintain recovery, and give back to the community. Success is measured by length of stay in housing, becoming connected to supportive services and treatment, and by increased income through employment.

CHN was very careful in choosing the location of the project, which provides easy access to public transportation, shopping, and employment. They worked with neighbors and local businesses to help choose a design that was sensitive to the area. The unique design, which is functional and aesthetically pleasing, was patterned after an old farm, and the original farmhouse still stands on the grounds. Briggsdale Apartments fits in with the fabric of the area.

Q. How does this project represent an innovative solution to a specific development challenge?

A. It is challenging to find a location and facility that is right for the disabled and chronically homeless, and Briggsdale Apartments was able to do both. By working collaboratively with the community, CHN established a Community Advisory Council to assist with project planning and ensure long-term community participation. The council, made up of neighbors and neighborhood organizations, participated in selecting the architectural design of the building, modeled after the original farm residences. The historical integrity of the neighborhood was not compromised. The facility offers 35 studio apartments, community space, a computer lab for residents, and offices for 24-hour staffing. Supportive services are offered to the residents, as well as job preparation training, placement, and retention services.