Construction is expected to begin in August on 22 west-side apartment units for previously homeless people after the Springfield City Council voted to support the project with $800,000 in federal grant funds.
Advocates for the homeless said they were grateful that the council voted in favor of the federal funding for Park Avenue Residences at 3526 S. Park Ave.
"There's certainly a need in our community," Marjorie King, president of the board of Helping Hands of Springfield, told Illinois Times. "There's not enough affordable housing for clients in the area."
But Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin, in whose ward the two-story, three-building complex will be constructed – and the only council member to vote against the project July 5 – said tenants of the project will be in danger because they will live along a relatively narrow road with no sidewalks, inadequate lighting and no public transportation stops for at least half a mile.
"It doesn't make any sense to me," he said. "This is a very bad location to put chronically homeless individuals. ... They're going to be walking around in cold weather trying to get to mass transit."
However, King and Annie Lantgen, director of administration and interim executive director of Helping Hands, said the nonprofit will provide intensive case management to all clients of the complex in a model known as "supportive housing."
They said caseworkers will transport clients – who probably won't have their own cars – to counseling appointments, doctor's visits and grocery stores, so public transportation won't be essential.
McMenamin said it's unrealistic to think the tenants will never venture outside on their own.
Supportive housing allows tenants to pay no more than 30% of their income for rent. Helping Hands, which already manages 24 supportive-housing units in Sangamon County, covers the rest of the rent and sometimes utilities.
Park Avenue Residences will be focused on "health and housing stability for seniors and veterans who have a disability and are experiencing chronic homelessness," a Helping Hands news release said.
There already are 187 people in the community waiting for a supportive housing unit, King said. She is treasurer of another Springfield-based nonprofit, Deerfield Reserves, that will own the property after construction is complete in summer 2023.
Seven council members voted in favor of the project. Ward 2 Ald. Shawn Gregory voted "present" and Ward 4 Ald. John Fulgenzi was absent. Mayor Jim Langfelder didn't vote but has supported the project, which previously received zoning approval from the council.
The city has annexed the site, previously in unincorporated Woodside Township.
Mike Niehaus, owner and president of Windsor Homes, purchased the site and received zoning approval from the City Council in 2021 when he initially planned to construct market-rate, privately owned apartments.
About 80 neighborhood residents signed a petition opposing the site prior to the zoning change, based on concerns about lack of infrastructure to support the density of the project.
Neighbors have expressed additional opposition since learning the proposed use for the site, which was not discussed during the rezoning process. Niehaus said he changed his plans when Helping Hands approached him after zoning approval was granted.
King said Helping Hands plans to reach out to neighbors soon. "We definitely will partner with the community as much as we can," she said.
The project will be entirely government-funded.
The Illinois Housing Development Authority, a quasi-state agency, announced in January that the project will be financed with almost $6 million in funding from the state and federal government and from Helping Hands, which is getting its share from the additional federal funds recently approved by City Council.
Of the total, $500,000 will come from the IHDA Trust Fund, which may not need to be repaid, according to an IHDA spokesman. Another $4.7 million will come through a grant from IHDA, and $800,000 will come from Helping Hands.
Niehaus will be paid $180,000 for land acquisition, and $4.3 million will be spent for construction. That works out to $188,926 for each of the 23 units in the complex. There will be 22 units for clients and one unit for the complex's manager. There will also be a community space on the first floor of one of the complex's buildings.
Fees for lawyers and engineers, financing and other non-construction costs total $534,000. Niehaus said those costs are required as part of government funding for the project.
Ownership of the site will be transferred from Niehaus to Helping Hands and then to Deerfield Reserves. Langten said Deerfield Reserves was formed after Helping Hands realized it wanted to delegate the specialized task of owning and running an apartment complex to another organization.
The cost-per-unit for Park Avenue Residences is related to the high cost of building materials, energy-efficiency measures and other features required in a government-funded project, Niehaus said.