Kansas City’s reStart shelter downtown has focused intently in recent years on finding permanent housing for its homeless clients.
Until now, that has often been in older homes or apartments scattered throughout the city.
But construction is expected to begin early next year on new townhomes for the homeless at Troost Avenue and Admiral Boulevard, just two blocks from reStart. And while it’s affordable housing for people who have suffered major life setbacks, it’s being designed to resemble the high-quality, market-rate housing in Quality Hill.
“We want to make it look like good downtown housing and permanent housing where people would be proud to live there,” said Brian Collins of Dromara Development, a partner with reStart and the Kansas City Housing Authority on the project.
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The Kansas City Council recently enthusiastically approved the rezoning and development plan for the project, praising the addition of high-quality housing to the Paseo West neighborhood. Weather permitting, construction should begin in February or March and be concluded by the end of next year.
The development will be called Rose Hill Townhomes because Rose Hill was the historic name for that area of town.
It is filling a definite need, says Evie Craig, executive director of reStart, which will place the residents at Rose Hill and offer them case management, social services and financial and employment counseling at reStart’s own facility, 918 E. Ninth St.
“Housing for families was critical,” Craig said, noting that many adults with children struggle to find homes where they can pay the utilities, let alone the rent. The Rose Hill townhomes will provide 33 affordable units in two three-story buildings on the southeast corner of Admiral and Troost. The units are designed for adult couples or at least one adult with a child or children.
Collins has expertise in financing affordable housing projects and had previously forged a partnership with an affiliate of the Kansas City Housing Authority and with Kansas City architect Jim Scott. Back in 2012, that team had successfully completed the Pemberton Park apartments, focused specifically on grandparents raising their grandchildren, and was looking for a new venture.
Just about that time, the Missouri Housing Development Commission, which provides low-income tax credits to finance affordable housing projects, was seeking to link developers more closely with social service agencies actually serving the homeless. The commission chose reStart as one of its lead referral agencies, so Collins approached Craig and they designed a project specifically for struggling families.
Tax credits were awarded this past spring to make the $7 million project a reality. It will be built on vacant land owned by Dana Gibson, a real estate developer based in the River Market.
Gibson says he had anticipated someday building market-rate housing on the site but liked Collins’ plan.
“The team they’ve got assembled to do this, and the use, I just couldn’t argue with it,” Gibson said. “It doesn’t feel like an institutional development.”
Collins said the construction with brick and stone walls will provide the same attractive design to bookend the east side of downtown as Quality Hill does west of Broadway.
“So there’s this nice urban dense housing on each side of downtown,” he said.
Craig said Scott conducted focus groups to learn about residents’ needs, and the design reflects that. It will provide a gated parking area, playground, and common patio area on the interior of the property, secluded from the street.
“The kitchen is somewhat open, so mom or dad can be preparing the meal, doing laundry and keeping an eye on the kids,” she said.
A January 2014 snapshot count of homeless people in Jackson County found the number has actually gone down considerably from earlier years, reflecting a concerted community effort to find permanent housing for the chronically homeless.
But the count still identified 135 families of at least one adult and one child — totaling 281 children and 179 people over age 18 — living in emergency shelters, transitional shelters or without shelter.
So 33 new units will make a significant dent in that need, Craig said.
Those served would be like the families already living in reStart’s transitional family housing units. They include a mother with serious health problems who can’t work full time and thus struggles to house herself and three children, and a grandmother caring for her grandson who worked for years as a school aide but then lost her position and livelihood when the job description changed.
Kansas City Housing Authority vouchers will make the rents affordable for the residents.
Housing Authority officials were pleased to serve as developers on the project and hope it will be a catalyst for more housing in the Paseo West neighborhood, said John Monroe, planning director with the Housing Authority.
Les Washington, president of the Paseo West Neighborhood Association, agreed.
“We wholeheartedly support it,” Washington said of the project.
He said representatives of the neighborhood, which extends from Admiral to Truman Road, Interstate 70 to the Paseo, were not averse to providing permanent housing for those who have been homeless.
The area is already home to a number of homeless providers, so the townhome residents will have ample access to help.
“We hope they use these services,” he said. “It gives you a sense of nourishing the community.”