A new development in Columbus, Ohio, means more than a place to live.
Harriet’s Hope is the first community of its kind in the city and one of the first service-enriched developments built in the nation for survivors of human trafficking.
The idea for the project came from Celia Kendall, CEO of Beacon 360 Management, an Ohio-based nonprofit manager and developer of affordable housing.
In 2017, she participated in a street outreach program that took her into some of the roughest neighborhoods of Chicago.
“Every night when you or I or others with no connection to the issue go to bed, there is a world that awakens around us where people have no choice,” Kendall says. “They are coerced, manipulated into this life of trafficking. I was so moved by what I saw. I had a difficult time returning back after having that experience.”
She couldn’t shake meeting a pregnant woman who was being trafficked out of a motel on the West Side.
Kendall returned to Columbus and began to look further into the issue, finding out that her home state is fifth in the nation for incidences of human trafficking.
In 2021, there were 291 cases of sex and labor trafficking identified, with 424 victims in Ohio, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
A network of law enforcement officials and others are fighting the problem, but the one big gap was housing. “That was how the seed got planted,” Kendall says.
Her organization joined forces with the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) to develop Harriet’s Hope, starting around 2019.
CMHA got behind the idea of the project and brought its development expertise to make the concept a reality.
“Housing is the foundation for somebody to be able to improve their life,” says Scott Scharlach, chief operating officer at CMHA.
Once residents have safe, stable housing, then they’ll be able to utilize the services to improve their health as well as better their lives socially and economically, stress supporters.
Harriet’s Hope, named after abolitionist Harriet Tubman, rose from the ground up. When the team set out to develop the community, it hadn’t even identified land for the project.
It began with just a concept paper and commitment, recalls Scharlach.
CMHA and Beacon 360 eventually found a site and tore down an old motel that sat on the property. It turned out that same motel had been used for trafficking.
A survivor who had experienced trauma at the building took part in knocking the motel down, an act of breaking free from the past and starting new.
In Franklin County, where Columbus is located, many of the women tied to trafficking or prostitution go through CATCH (Changing Actions to Change Habits) Court, a specialized program that takes these women out of the main prosecution system and treats them as victims instead of criminals.
In some cases, people going through CATCH Court are ordered to stay away from certain neighborhoods as a way to help in their recovery, which added a challenge to finding a site, says Kendall.
The developers worked with court officials so they understood what the team was trying to build, she says.
It was one of many collaborations that helped lift the project.
The team also had to fund the $15.6 million development, including applying for and receiving 9% low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.
CVS Health invested $10.6 million into Harriet’s Hope as the sole LIHTC equity funder through the Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing.
“Whether forced into labor or sex work, human trafficking is detrimental to the health of an individual and larger community—making this both a health care and public health issue,” says Latasha Brown, CVS Health’s anti-human trafficking administrator.
“Between the supportive services we provide our Aetna-OhioRISE members who survived human trafficking to my work on attorney general [Dave] Yost’s Human Trafficking Commission, every day I see the myriad physical and mental health challenges survivors endure. A survivor cannot improve their overall health and well-being without stable access to quality housing. For Harriet’s Hope residents, this haven will allow them to focus on their healing journey and position them for a bright next chapter.”
Additional funders include the Affordable Housing Trust of Columbus and Franklin County, city of Columbus, Park National Bank, Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati, the Ohio Legislature, and Ohio Capital Impact Corp. CMHA is providing a project-based housing voucher contract on each unit.
A Replicable Model
In another meaningful move, a group of trafficking survivors was assembled to assist in the creation and design of Harriet’s Hope, including picking paint colors and flooring and offering other insight.
The project leaders are also tailoring wraparound services to help meet the needs of the residents. There are 11 service partners that will provide case management, substance abuse disorder treatment, trauma-informed behavioral health services, workforce development, and other programs.
In some cases, residents may not have custody of their children, so supporters also hope to provide opportunities for family reunification, adds Kendall, who would like to see the new project serve as a model for others.
Harriet’s Hope illustrates what can be achieved when survivors, housing organizations, private businesses, and public agencies join forces.
“This project is able to be possible through the power of collaboration,” Kendall says