For Jennifer Gorsuch Walters, federal jury duty opened her eyes to the growing opiate and heroin epidemic in her own community.
The president of construction and development for Lancaster, Ohio–based Fairfield Homes heard about families being destroyed, kids becoming addicts, and lives being wrought with desperation because of drugs.
In fact, Ohio Mental Health & Addiction Services reported in July that heroin-related deaths rose from 697 in 2012 to 983 in 2013 in the state. Opiates, which include heroin and prescription painkillers, also have been reported to be routinely available in central Ohio.
Walters says she wanted to do something about the problem and partnered with Lancaster–Fairfield Community Action Agency, a community housing development organization, and The Recovery Center, which provides a full spectrum of treatment and services, to create The Pearl House, a permanent supportive-housing project for families on the road to recovery.
“After research, we found that this project was very needed in our community,” Walters says. “We thought it would serve as a stable and nurturing place where people can heal and rebuild from addiction.”
With an allocation of low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, the development team set out to transform a vacant downtown parking lot into the housing and convert the Lancaster Hardware Building into The Recovery Center’s new offices.
However, not everyone was supportive. A group of vocal citizens tried to halt development, but Fairfield Homes and its partners decided to fight for the project and restructured it to meet the zoning variances.
After overcoming the NIMBY battle, the 21-unit Pearl House opened in October 2014 and was fully leased within two months. The Pearl House and The Recovery Center offer a wealth of treatment options and services for the families, many of whom were homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Residents have access to case management; health care; substance abuse, mental health, and trauma treatment; independent living skills classes; employment services; child counseling; and parent education. Other amenities include a fitness room and interactive play areas for the children.
“Now that The Pearl House is in service, lives are definitely being changed. It’s a great result,” says Walters. “It was hard to get here and a big fight, but we are making a difference in our community in a positive way.”
Walters says the families and children who live there are extremely grateful and that she’s seeing positive outcomes. “People are going back to school and taking parenting classes. Kids are able to have regular meals and showers and go to school on a regular basis,” she adds. “There are many parents who are now employed. They can really use that foundation to climb up the scaffolding of life and opportunities.”
A 15-year project-based voucher contract with the Lancaster Metropolitan Housing Authority allows for the residents to pay no more than 30% of their income for rent.
The $5.6 million development was financed primarily with LIHTC equity provided by Huntington National Bank through Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing. It also received money from the Housing Development Assistance Program through the Ohio Housing Trust Fund and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati Affordable Housing Program.
Occupancy is 100% with a waiting list. “The good thing is that this is a great step in the right direction,” says Walters. “If families can move on and be successful in maintaining recovery, then they can move out into more independent housing and another family can move in. The families are extremely motivated. They really want to get their lives back.”