Five Year Fix: Affordable Housing & Rental Opportunities

Dec 14, 2015

Credit National Park Service

When the City announced its plans for the federal Housing and Urban Development funding it received, the first objective was to improve curb appeal of its neighborhoods and increase housing and rental opportunities.

And over the next five years, the City hopes to improve 500 homes and either build or rehab almost 300 homes or rental properties.

Fort Wayne’s Director of Housing and Neighborhood Services Heather Presley-Cowen says the City has purchased several homes around Fort Wayne and continues to rehab them, attracting the eyes of millennials. However, having lived through the recent recession, some of those aspiring homeowners are wary of the risk involved.

But, the City says it has a plan to combat those fears.

“We’re offering a dollar-for-dollar down payment assistance grant to them to do that. We’re also providing the resources to do the construction loan,” says Presley-Cowen. “So when we look at making housing more available in the West Central area, all that housing was there, it was on the market in some places, but it just wasn’t something you or I can go in and put our money into.”

Rehabbing these homes has a domino effect in improving overall community wellness, too. Vice-chairperson of the Fort Wayne Housing Authority Andy Downs says attractive curb appeal makes for a healthy community.

“Instead of seeing a neighborhood continually decline, and then, unfortunately, having much more affordable housing but it’s not safe housing, what you actually can see is a way for the city to invest and help cover some of those costs that really aren’t covered strictly from a market sense,” says Downs.

The city government isn’t the only agent rehabbing homes.

Another player is NeighborLink, an organization that works to improve housing and neighborhoods, whether it’s repairing roofs, fixing furnaces, or making homes more accessible for elderly residents.

They’ve been around for about 12 years, and Andrew Hoffman has been the organization’s executive director for eight of those years. He says the number of projects NeighborLink has worked on in that time has grown significantly.

“When I started eight years ago, we were doing 50-60 projects a year, and we’ll do close to 700 projects this year,” says Hoffman. “And then in the twelve years of NeighborLink we’ve done 6,000 tangible projects in that time.”

With the help of a grant, the City will be contracting Neighborlink to help with repair projects around the community. Hoffman says this could provide a big boost to the organization.

“If it gives us another hundred-thousand dollars or more over the next couple of years, we can help neighbors that we would typically turn away and it has great potential,” says Hoffman. “It all really comes down to how efficiently we use the dollars. It has a lot of potential but a lot of challenges as well.”

Of course, not everyone is looking to be a homeowner, and Presley-Cowen says that renting opportunities need improvement around Fort Wayne as well.

“You have a hard time finding good, quality rental housing, so we might be providing a rental housing subsidy to help make that housing affordable,” Presley-Cowen says. “What we want to do is customize that to promote housing choice at the end of the day.”

Tammy Brandt is the President of the Apartment Association of Fort Wayne, and also leads a local rental company called New Generation Management.

She says low-income rental supply is not meeting the overall demand, especially for parents who want their children in particular school districts.

Brandt says when one of her low-income properties opened off Highway 3, people were lined up like shoppers outside of a store on Black Friday.

She says the simple solution for the shortage is to add more developments. But that also requires a change in public perception of low-income housing, which isn’t quite as simple.

“Everybody fights you out there because they don’t want those kind of people in their neighborhood, low-income housing,” says Brandt. “They think there will be more crime; we need to change that perspective.”

Until then, she says, those who find themselves waitlisted may be waiting until the next development is built. In 2016 alone, the City hopes to improve the curb appeal of 100 homes, build or rehab 20 homes and rental units, and construct a total of 40 rental units.