The Bloomington Housing Authority intends to use private sector financing to rehabilitate more than 300 units of public affordable housing over the next five years.
Amber Skoby, executive director of the local housing authority, talked about the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration Program during a city Facebook Livestream on Thursday. RAD’s new approach will allow Bloomington’s housing authority to change the way it distributes federal dollars across 312 public housing units for low-income residents.
Rather than directly funding residents to live in those units, the housing authority will instead dispense that money to residents in the form of a voucher. The roundabout approach will allow the housing authority to engage with and borrow money from an established industry of lenders, owners and stakeholders.
“We’ve been chronically underfunded for decades,” Skoby said, blaming insufficient congressional bills.
Taking off the chainsSkoby said the new method brings in more capital, more predictability and more choice. By opening up new funding sources, the Bloomington Housing Authority will be able to launch a $5 million rehabilitation project in the Reverend Butler and Walnut Woods neighborhoods later this year. In early 2020, the organization will start on a second rehabilitation sweep in the Crestmont neighborhood.
“What RAD does is take off the chains,” said William Hosea, the housing authority’s board chairman. “We can be very innovative and creative in how we provide affordable housing, with regards to financing.”
The Reverend Butler neighborhood on Bloomington’s near west side features 56 units of low-income housing built in 1972. Walnut Woods, built on the south side in 1981, has 60 units of affordable housing. Rehabilitation efforts will repair or replace roofs, install new energy systems and improve lighting, accessibility and safety features. In the short term, two-bedroom units may be converted to satisfy the demand for one-bedrooms. Renovations are expected to cost around $45,000 per unit. The local organization will be using Brinshore Development out of Northbrook, Illiinois, as its general contractor.
“Here’s the chance to make sure our housing fits our need,” Skoby said.
The Crestmont neighborhood on Bloomington’s west side is the housing authority’s oldest and largest. Built in 1965, the neighborhood has 194 units of affordable housing. Between 2006 and 2010, the Bloomington Housing Authority took on extra debt to improve aesthetics at the Reverend Butler and Crestmont neighborhoods. However, the organization’s budget and supplementary grants typically only cover just four units to be renovated each year.
“It wasn’t enough to do everything, but we did what we could,” Skoby said. “It would take us decades to do these renovations if we kept this current pace.”
Under the new program, all three neighborhoods are scheduled to receive a facelift in about five years instead of 24.
to a big problemSome repairs will be minor enough so that residents can stay in their homes, but others will require residents to leave.
About one-third of the housing authority’s units turn over each year, so Skoby said families may not have to move out of their neighborhoods during the renovations. The Bloomington Housing Authority will retain ownership of the properties through a nonprofit corporation, residents will pay the same amount in rent and families will be allowed to move back into their original units. The entire process, including moving costs, will be covered by the Bloomington Housing Authority.
“I understand that this really impacts people’s homes and that can be stressful and a little bit nerve-wracking,” Skoby said.
Furthermore, the transition to a voucher system allows residents who stay in place for a year to pick that money up and use it at a privately owned rental unit.
In addition to the 312 homes the Bloomington Housing Authority provides, the authority already issues more than 1,300 housing vouchers, with 80 reserved for veterans. Those numbers represent close to $9 million in housing payments to private landlords across Monroe County, and the organization as a whole supports nearly 3,000 low-income residents with their housing needs.
The Bloomington Housing Authority provides access to public housing for families earning below the area median income. The housing authority also provides rental vouchers to families earning as much as 50 percent of the area median income.
The federal government requires three-fourths of voucher recipients earn 30 percent or less of the area median income. A two-person household earning 30 percent the area’s median income only makes a collective $16,700 per year. Skoby said almost 90 percent of families supported by the Bloomington Housing Authority live at, or below, that threshold.
Transitioning to an all-voucher system won’t have much effect on which families receive assistance.
“It’s not a hard thing for us to reach because there are so many families at that level,” Skoby said.
During the last round of applications for housing vouchers, 1,200 households had applied for the federal funding. Now, there are around 900 households on the waiting list. Sherry Clay, president of the Bloomington Housing Authority Resident Council, said people who live in public housing don’t live there because that’s what they deserve. They’re not necessarily there because they’ve budgeted poorly or made bad decisions. They’ve lost their jobs, gone into medical debt or just had a harder go at life.
“At the end of the day, everybody who lives in public housing wants what everybody wants,” Hosea said. “A safe place to live.”