An Interview with Project Community Connections, Inc. Co-CEO’s Margaret Schuelke and Jimiyu Evans
We sat down with our partner Project Community Connections, Inc., (PCCI) to talk about their efforts to solve the affordable housing crisis in Atlanta and to prevent and end homelessness. What follows is a conversation about their work and our partnership with them on their Atlanta Food Innovation Center and the Thrive Sweet Auburn affordable housing development.
Tell us a little bit about PCCI.
Since 1999, PCCI has operated a rapid re-housing program that is an important tool in Atlanta’s response to ending homelessness. Currently, we provide services to households experiencing homelessness in Atlanta, Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Rockdale, Henry, Clayton and Douglas Counties. Last year alone, PCCI staff successfully moved more than 1,500 men, women and children out of shelters, off the streets or out of places not meant for human habitation and into permanent housing of their choice, with leases in their names, that are affordable and suited to meet their unique household needs. As a regional leader, PCCI is committed to advocating for and growing expertise and resources locally and nationally to help homeless individuals and families achieve self-sufficiency.
How does this work affect community needs in Atlanta?
The 2019 Point in Time count conducted by the City of Atlanta Continuum of Care, Partners for Home identified over 3,200 individuals who were in shelter, transitional housing or residing in a place not meant for habitation. PCCI’s Rapid Rehousing program is a response to the needs of this population by providing a housing intervention focused on making homelessness rare, brief and only one time. PCCI’s work has contributed to the 25% reduction in homelessness from 2015 to 2019 in the city of Atlanta.
Tell us a little bit about how PCCI and Enterprise partner together.
Three years ago, PCCI applied for and received Enterprise Section 4 grant funds under the Program Area, “Organizational Sustainability.” Funds awarded under this area allow organizations – like PCCI – to enhance and build new business lines that will ensure long-term financial stability. By doing so, we can weather changes in federal grant priorities and stay resilient and focused on our efforts to build and preserve affordable housing.
The first year of Section 4 funds allowed PCCI to scale up our shared kitchen operations (formally known as the Atlanta Food Innovation Center). Prior to receiving Section 4 funds, PCCI simply could not advance this social enterprise past a break-even point due to the limited number of food vendors allowed by licensing officials. While the project is mission focused (vendors are required to hire current or formerly homeless individuals and/or provide free training and assistance), it is also designed to produce positive cash flow for PCCI operations. Thanks to support through the Section 4 program, we were able to secure necessary licensing, procure commercial kitchen equipment, meet fire and safety standards and enhance our online scheduling system – just to name a few things. Today we lease space to multiple entrepreneurs who produce products onsite, conduct business, share ideas and offer volunteer training to PCCI clients interested this work. We can now “do good AND we do well.”
Following the expansion of the Atlanta Food Innovation Center, PCCI applied for renewal Section 4 funds to take the next step in our long-term plan to rebuild our program office into a mixed-use, mixed-income housing facility. The success of the center gave us the confidence we needed to expand our building past direct services into a multipurpose facility that includes housing, job creation and a health and wellness program. Section 4 funds in years 2 and 3 have paid for many critical pre-development expenses, including the completion of a massing study to identify the best and highest use of the property, completion of architectural schematic designs, all expenses directly and indirectly related to the rezoning applications, a market analysis and general legal work (title searches, purchase agreements).
PCCI is deeply committed to advancing a holistic revitalization of the neighborhood surrounding our property and is grateful to Enterprise and to the Section 4 program. We are well on our way to meeting our mutual goals of ending homelessness and providing safe and affordable housing options to those most in need.
What are the next projects you are most excited about?
PCCI works hard each and every day to help solve the affordable housing crisis in Atlanta and to prevent and end homelessness. In addition to our work as a direct service provider, PCCI has recently engaged in housing development work with our partners at Enterprise and Mercy Housing South East. Enterprise not only provided critical pre-development funds but also technical expertise on the best way to solicit community support, how to host a charrette, securing project equity and debt and how to formally identify and engage with a development partner. With this knowledge, PCCI released a RFQ, interviewed candidates and selected Mercy Housing South East (MHSE) in late 2018 as our development partner.
Officially known as Thrive Sweet Auburn, PCCI and MHSE have plans to build 117 mixed-income apartment units for families and individuals. Based on our current timeline, Thrive Sweet Auburn will open its doors in the fall of 2021. The development site is conveniently located a quarter of a mile walking distance from the King Memorial MARTA station in the heart of Atlanta. Within a half mile from the site are community amenities including Martin Luther King Natatorium, Selena S. Butler Park, Grady Hospital, Georgia State University and Mercy Care. The development will offer studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom units, combining 20% permanent supportive housing (PSH) units and affordable units at 30%, 60%, and 80% AMI. PCCI will continue to offer direct services to clients at the facility and offer onsite medical care, nutrition education, financial literacy and full wrap-around services.
What do you think will change about affordable housing over the next five years and what are you most excited about how PCCI can impact that change?
Our hope for affordable housing over the next five years is that communities and leadership across the county continue to think outside the box for solutions to end this national epidemic. We believe the very same units that are currently unaffordable will eventually become affordable, opening up access for individuals at all income levels. PCCI’s work over the years and for the years to come will continue to focus on income mobility, careers instead of jobs and equal access to quality, safe and thriving communities.
What else should people know about PCCI?
PCCI’s reputation for delivering quality rapid rehousing services is earned through hard work, consistency and program performance. We operate as a team of interdependent professionals dedicated to ending homelessness in our community. The quality and efficiency of our work has been recognized locally, statewide and even at a national level. See examples below:
- January 2019: Selected as one of only two companies in the state of Georgia by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) as a national workplace of excellence.
- December 2017: Recognized in the Atlanta Business Chronical for our leadership in helping Atlanta end homelessness for hundreds of individuals and families residing in the Peachtree-Pine shelter and as a community champion and for our innovative problem solving skills.
- PCCI received recognition for “Outstanding Achievement in Service for Homeless Veterans" by the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs in July of 2017.
- Recognized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a “best case practice” for our work “scaling up” rapid rehousing.
- Selected by The White House in 2012 as one of 14 “Champions of Change in the Fight Against Youth Homelessness."
- Participated in a national study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services entitled, “Linking Human Services and Housing Assistance for Homeless Families and at Risk of Homelessness” published in May of 2012.
We have produced meaningful results for this community and we hope we can continue to do so.