January 15, 2020

Overcoming Hurdles to Help Build Affordable Housing

BRS Gazebo

Blue River Services (BRS) was founded in 1959 to assist people with disabilities through a continuum of individualized services and supports, like vocational training and employment assistance. BRS entered the housing space in 2003 with the purchase of its first apartment complex. Their housing services programs now provide 179 homes for families, seniors, victims of domestic violence and formerly homeless youth across two counties.

“We grew over the years to become an organization that offered a number of supportive services that spread over time. We're in a rural area, so we're probably the only organization in this area that provides these services. We branched out about approximately 35 years ago and began serving not only persons with disabilities, but also low- to moderate-income families and individuals,” says Paula Craig, BRS housing director.

Since then, BRS has established public transportation in four surrounding counties. They also administer Healthy Families, which provides support to new parents, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) for the region.

Grandview Manor South Senior Apts in Washington County, Indiana

Bringing Affordable Housing to Rural Communities: Overcoming the Obstacles

Enterprise recently awarded a Section 4 capacity-building grant to BRS to support three developments for people with low-income and vulnerable populations in Harrison County, Indiana. Harrison is a very small rural county with approximately 48,000 people and just 3,000 in its largest town.

“Enterprise has been very valuable in helping us with salaries. Being in a low-income area right now with the way the economy is and trying to compete with for profit businesses to keep valuable employees is extremely hard, and we've lost a number of employees. When you lose employees that you just trained, having to start over again is a real challenge. The fact that Enterprise helped us out with funding for salaries and training has been a great asset,” says Paula.

The Enterprise Grant provided 15 hours per week to continue the Housing Development Assistant position. This position assists the Housing Director with researching grants for affordable housing and special needs housing, as well as gathering information to complete grant applications. The Enterprise also provided 15 hours per week of salary for a new position, Housing Assistant Manager. This position assumed supervision of the maintenance staff, as well as reports and aspects of compliance for all grant sources. This allowed the Housing Manager to assume more aspects of development including writing grants, finding property to build, overseeing construction to name a few. This will result in a continuation of housing development.

With very limited infrastructure in its rural service area, BRS encountered difficulties early on in their efforts to create affordable homes in these small towns. What little affordable housing existed didn’t serve people with low- to moderate-incomes (at or below 30-40 percent of the area median income), which was where BRS wanted to focus.

BRS has big affordable development plans in New Salisbury, a small unincorporated town in Harrison County. They’ve received funding to develop 14 affordable apartments, with plans to break ground in early spring 2020. They’re also applying for funding to develop 10 multifamily apartments. There will be a total of 24 units that consist of two and three bedrooms. Because BRS serves many aging clients with disabilities, they plan to build a 20-bed alternative nursing home mimicking the greenhouse model. The greenhouse is a small 10 to 12 bed facility that provides each aging senior or aging person with a disability their own private bedroom and bathroom with a common area kitchen, living room, etc. It is an alternative to a nursing home with 24/7 care.

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