exterior shot of new apartment complex
Hisle Park Apartments is an affordable housing complex that provides supportive services to young adults at risk of homelessness or aging out of foster care. The complex was developed by the Portsmouth Housing Authority and Shawnee Family Health. Credit: Ryan Kurtz Photography

Editor’s Note: This article is the third in a five-part series about the challenges low-income renters face and potential ways to address them. The series is supported by Wayfinders Ohio. Click here for part one and here for part two.

MANSFIELD — Kelly Blankenship is all too familiar with the struggle low-income residents face when searching for adequate, affordable housing in Richland County. She sees it day after day as the executive director of the homeless shelter Wayfinders, formerly known as Harmony House.

“Affordability is always an issue because of the barriers our clients face,” she said. “Therefore, they are forced to settle for poor quality housing as a starting point.”

Wayfinders housed 582 unique individuals in 2022, Blankenship said. Many of them didn’t have permanent housing lined up when they left.

Richland County isn’t alone in its need for higher quality affordable housing.

Communities across the state and even the nation are facing similar issues. So how are they addressing this problem?

In several Ohio counties and metropolitan areas like Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, public housing authorities (HAs) play a key role in the development of new housing. 

Unlike private developers, HAs are government agencies. Properties they develop need to be sustainable, but aren’t driven by profit potential. 

“The big distinction between a private development company and the housing authority is a private development company is usually in it for the short haul, and we’re in it for the long haul,” said Steve Andrews, executive director of the Mansfield Metropolitan Housing Authority.

“We’re not in it to make profit. We are in it to meet the need of housing and make it affordable and attainable for people who who need it the most.”

In Scioto and Medina counties, local housing authorities are tackling the affordable housing shortage by evaluating community needs, forming partnerships with other agencies and focusing development on specific populations.

What can Richland County learn from Medina?

The Medina Metropolitan Housing Authority (HA) has built three new multifamily housing developments since 2016 and rehabilitated two more.

The Medina HA’s most recent new construction project was Santee Landing, a 45-unit housing apartment designed to provide housing for the local workforce and attract younger people to Medina County.

Santee Landing opened last October. The complex offers one-, two- and three-bedroom units with energy-efficient appliances, as well as a community room and laundry rooms on each floor.

The agency collaborated with a nearby economic development corporation on the project.

Santee Landing, a workforce housing complex developed by the Medina Housing Authority. (Source: Medina Housing Authority)

“Its members knew that they needed employees and a good loyal workforce is a local workforce,” said Skip Sipos, the Medina HA’s executive director.

“We know for a fact that some of our residents are employed by (companies) who are begging for workers.”

Overall, the Medina HA owns or manages 14 housing complexes in three cities – Medina, Wadsworth and Brunswick. Six of those developments are specifically for seniors or individuals with disabilities.

Sipos said building trust with the community and its leaders is key to robust development. Sometimes, that means educating local leaders and residents about the positive impacts of affordable housing.

“If you can document to them that need and the value of programs like affordable housing, (stakeholders) will get behind it,” he said.

Not in my backyard: opposition to affordable housing

Sipos said the most common challenges housing authorities face during development include the cost of construction, land availability, local zoning laws and public opposition.

Even with well-maintained properties and the support of public leaders, Sipos said his authority still experiences pushback sometimes on its development projects.

When the agency was working to develop Santee Landing, some citizens spoke out against it. Some expressed concern about increased traffic or crime rates.

“There were 50 people at the first public hearing that came to testify against our site plan,” he recalled.

Sipos acknowledged that affordable housing often comes with a stigma. Neighbors often worry that crime will increase and property values decrease, but numerous studies have found that’s often not the case.

A 2015 study found that properties financed by the LITHC program often have a positive impact. The study looked at approximately 16 million real estate transactions within 1.5 miles of a LIHTC site in a total of 129 counties in 15 states.

Researchers found that in low-income neighborhoods, LIHTC developments led to an approximate 6.5-percent increase in property values. The developments were also associated with lower crime rates and a more racially and income-diverse population.

LIHTC developments in areas with higher incomes and lower minority populations did lead to a slight decline in home values — around 2.5 percent — and attracted lower-income households.

Another study found no link between affordable housing developments and crime, property values or taxes in suburban New Jersey.

Researchers studying Austin, Texas noted that LIHTC housing tends to be developed in neighborhoods where crime is already prevalent, but added the developments tend to revitalize distressed neighborhoods and may even mitigate or reduce crime.

Sipos said the agency’s properties don’t have high crime rates.

“We are a very tough property manager. We enforce leases. We don’t allow criminal elements to stay long,” he said.

“We have relationships with local police departments where K9 officers walk the halls occasionally for us.”

Affordable housing has economic benefits

In Sipos’ view, affordable housing also benefits the local economy. The construction process provides business for local suppliers, vendors and contractors. New housing units increase property values, bolstering a community’s tax base.

Renters who are less-cost burdened have more to spend on local goods and services.

“Candidly, what we do is economic development,” Sipos said.

In a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Rebecca Diamond and Timothy James McQuade estimated that an affordable housing development in a low-income area improves welfare by $23,000 per local homeowner and $6,500 per local renter, with aggregate welfare benefits to society of $115 million.

The authors of the 2023 Richland County Housing Needs Assessment and Action Plan also predicted the development of new rental housing would positively impact the region. They estimated that developing 100 new rental apartments would provide over $11.5 million in local income in the first year and support 161 local jobs.

After the first year, the study predicted an economic impact of more than $2.5 million in local income and more than $500,000 in local taxes, plus support for 44 local jobs.

(It should be noted the Richland County study did not specify the impact based on the affordability of the units).

Affordable housing as supportive housing

Another example of an HA partnering with a community agency to develop housing exists in Portsmouth, Ohio.

Hisle Park is 45-unit affordable housing apartment complex. All of its units are reserved for young adults aging out of foster care or at risk of becoming homeless.

The Portsmouth Housing Authority (PHA) developed the property in partnership with Shawnee Family Health, a non-profit that provides psychiatric, primary care and employment services.

The partnership came about after both agencies realized they were struggling to serve youth exiting the foster care system.

“It’s always one of the populations that we’ve been unsuccessful in trying to house in our traditional programs,” said Peggy Rice, PHA’s executive director.

“You give an 18-year-old the keys to an apartment, they have a tendency of not understanding how to take care of it. We found that usually they got themselves into some trouble. They either didn’t pay their rent or they didn’t take care of the unit.”

Meanwhile, staff at Shawnee Family Health found it challenging to keep in contact with these young adults, who were often couch surfing from one home to the next.

After the agencies came together, they were able to leverage more funding sources than either could have alone. Portsmouth HA applied for a 9 percent Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.

Shawnee Family Health secured funds from Ohio’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OHMAS).

Hisle Park began accepting tenants in March and celebrated an official ribbon cutting in May. Many of its tenants arrived with nothing — no bed, no furniture, no plates, no silverware.

Shawnee Family Health put together an Amazon registry for starter household items. Local non-profits came through to help furnish the units.

Hisle Park residents are recipients of project-based vouchers, a type of federal housing assistance administered by PHA. Under the program, they pay no more than 30 percent of their income in rent. PHA also manages Hisle Park, collecting rents and maintaining the property.

  • hallway with exterior doors to courtyard
  • courtyard with patio furniture
  • courtyard with patio furniture
  • computer lab
  • hallway with a set of table and chairs and lots of windows
  • room in a clinic with examination table and sink
  • exterior view of apartment complex

Shawnee Family Health offers support services for residents, including an onsite clinic, mental health counseling and case management services. These services are funded primarily by residents’ Medicaid and a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 

Shawnee’s staff also help renters connect with other social services in the community. They guide residents as they explore job opportunities, possible careers and post-secondary education options like trade school or college.

“A few of them have goals of wanting to be a teacher or a nurse and that’s something they can do through our local university,” Rice said.

Shawnee also offers group classes where residents can learn the skills they may not have learned in foster care. There are classes on how to do laundry, make a grocery list and budget monthly expenses. Some tenants have children of their own, so Shawnee connects them with parenting classes.

“We were finding that these kids had been taken from homes or had been raised in homes without a lot of structure,” said Cynthia Holstein, Shawnee Family Health’s CEO. 

“They did not know how to live on their own. They also had experienced a lot of trauma and they needed assistance with that. Some had just gotten out of psychiatric hospitals. If they had just gone back out on the streets, I don’t know if they would have gotten the help that they needed.”

Tracie Bentley oversees case management for Shawnee Family Health. She said multiple residents slept on their couches when they first arrived because they weren’t used to beds. 

The transition to adulthood isn’t without its struggles, but Bentley said she’s seen many residents show signs of growth since moving into Hisle Park. 

Residents have become more comfortable seeking help from her staff and even began forming a community of their own. Now, a group of leaders in the building host game nights and movie nights. Residents planted a community garden on the property — all without prompting from the Shawnee staff.

“Some don’t engage a whole lot with others, but they’re doing what they need to do,” Bentley said. “They’ve got young kids that they’ve got back out of child protective services care because they’ve got a home now.

“They’re working and you don’t see them as often, but they’re moving forward.”

What about Mansfield?

The Mansfield MHA hasn’t done much affordable housing development in previous decades. Andrews hopes to change that next year, starting with the development of a 120-unit multifamily complex.

The MMHA applied for a four percent tax credit this spring to add additional family housing at Turtle Creek, an apartment complex on James Avenue. 

By using state tax credits and development funding, Andrews said the agency can address Richland County’s lack of affordable housing and raise the bar on what acceptable housing looks like.

“We need to start changing the dynamic of the quality of housing, because if affordable housing starts looking fantastic, then all of the people who have these really rundown places can’t operate business the way they used to,” Andrews said during a meeting in June.

“That changes our entire community.”

Richland County currently has supportive housing units designated for young adults exiting foster care, people in recovery from addiction, adults with disabilities and individuals with severe mental health issues.

Nevertheless, Joe Trolian of the Richland County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board said the community would benefit from more supportive housing, as well as more housing in general.

Trolian, who participated in a homelessness task force last year, said about one-fourth of Mansfield’s homeless population has a mental health need that would make them a good candidate for supportive housing.

“I think there’s always a need,” said Trolian, the agency’s executive director. “It’s almost like field of dreams. If we build it, they will come.”

Staff reporter at Richland Source since 2019. I focus on education, housing and features. Clear Fork alumna. Always looking for a chance to practice my Spanish. Got a tip? Email me at katie@richlandsource.com.

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    1. The quality of what has been built on Fourth St and Bartley Ave is HORRIBLE. It detracts from the character of our community. We will be looking at the deterioration of these properties in a few years down the road. Not because of the residents but because of the cheap construction. They are an eyesore even now.

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