Sulzbacher Village answers the housing and health-care needs of many of the most vulnerable women and children in Jacksonville, Fla.
Years in the making, the ambitious 124-unit development brings together permanent affordable housing, emergency housing, and respite-care units for women leaving a hospital with a new pediatric clinic and behavioral-care services in a neighborhood considered a “health desert.”
“We understand that housing and health care have to be co-located for the population we work with,” says Cindy Funkhouser, president and CEO of Sulzbacher Center, the area’s largest provider of services for people experiencing homelessness.
Funkhouser and her team dreamed about opening Sulzbacher Village, carefully thinking through the idea for years.
The one area the team didn’t have experience in was building affordable housing, so it partnered with longtime developer The Vestcor Cos. Together, they’ve created a new model for housing and a long-term solution to homelessness.
The approximately $20 million development brings together several different types of housing, including 70 permanent affordable housing units for single women and families. These studio, one-, and two-bedroom units were financed largely with federal low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) and will serve women and families earning up to 33% and 60% of the area median income.
In addition, Sulzbacher Village has 36 units for single women or women with children in need of temporary, emergency housing and eight short-term housing units for female veterans.
Single women and children make up about 90% of the community’s population.
The final housing component will be 10 medical respite units for people coming out of the hospital. Expected to begin operating around the end of June, the respite units will be supported by local hospitals that have entered into contracts for the rooms. Sulzbacher will provide these women with a place to go and further recover from their medical conditions as well as needed case management, including working with them on their long-term housing needs.
“They’re not going back to the streets,” Funkhouser says. “That’s a benefit to the hospitals, helping end the ricocheting through the emergency rooms. We connect them with a medical home and an actual home. That’s the beauty of the respite.”
Designed by PQH Group, the housing has boosted the self-esteem of residents, including the many youths who call Sulzbacher Village home, according to Funkhouser.
One teenager recently said how proud she is of being let off the bus at the attractive development. There is no more embarrassment about living in a shelter.
“If there ever was a doubt about the impact of permanent housing on a person’s mind-set and mental health, we’ve seen it play out,” Funkhouser says. “We’ve seen what people are like before and after. It’s been amazing and gratifying. You can’t overstate the impact of someone having a permanent home.”
The team also knew that providing housing alone was not the full answer.
The development is located in a zone that’s had the highest infant mortality rate as well as the highest mortality rates from heart disease and diabetes in the region. It’s also had the area’s highest rate of asthma-related emergency room visits.
As a result, health care became a critical component of the development, which opened in 2018.
A 7,000-square-foot pediatric health center provides optometry, primary care, and behavioral health services. Its patients include youth in Florida’s foster-care system. The clinic will also soon provide dental care to residents as well as the surrounding community.
The facility is a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) and has a sliding fee discount program and offers services regardless of a person’s ability to pay. FQHCs qualify for specific reimbursements under Medicare and Medicaid.
In addition to housing, residents at the village as well as others in the neighborhood needed “a medical home,” says Funkhouser.
“Going to the ER is not the answer,” she says. “That’s the least efficient, most costly way of providing primary-care service.”
For residents at Sulzbacher Village, many of whom do not have a car, health care has become just an elevator ride away.
The merging of housing and health is important because low-income families often have to choose to pay the rent above other expenses, including receiving needed medical care.
A new poll found that more than half of renters (54%) surveyed have delayed medical treatment because they couldn’t afford to pay for it. This includes skipping preventative routine check-ups (42%), seeking treatment when sick (38%), and buying over-the-counter medications (35%). The situation is even worse for severely rent-burdened respondents, according to the survey by Enterprise Community Partners.
“It was truly a group effort to get this development done,” says Ryan Hoover, president of TVC Development, the affordable housing group at Vestcor, which served as the project developer on behalf of Sulzbacher. “It’s a beautiful community.”
The development was complicated because of the different uses involved. The property also features a commercial kitchen, and a therapeutic early learning center offers services to infants and children up to 5 years old who live at Sulzbacher Village. It employs degreed teachers, a state-of-the-art early learning curriculum, and a licensed therapist to work on issues of trauma for a child’s whole family.
To finance the project, the team tapped several sources. Florida Housing Finance Corp. awarded Sulzbacher Village about $9 million in 9% federal LIHTCs and $3.5 million in State Apartment Incentive Loan funds. Hunt Capital Partners facilitated an $8.4 million LIHTC equity investment through a multi-investor fund. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity also provided a $1 million grant. In addition, Sulzbacher raised more than $6 million from over 400 individuals and donor groups.
The development delivers what the community needed, Funkhouser says.
“Anybody that’s looking and building affordable housing, especially around this population, if they’re not already in health care, they need to consider partnering with an FQHC and co-locating with the affordable housing if at all possible,” she says. “Having health care right on-site is a huge benefit for the people we serve.”