Battle Creek

Battle Creek officials get a look at housing that provides support that helps keep people housed

Editor's Note: A delegation of 13 city and community leaders from Battle Creek recently traveled to the South Shore Commons Permanent Supportive Housing development in Gary, Ind. to learn more about this type of housing. On the Ground Battle Creek's Jane Simon was invited to travel with them. 

As Battle Creek weighs future housing options for those who struggle to stay housed, one of the options being examined is Permanent Supportive Housing, a combination of housing and services that can help people live in a more stable environment as they get services that help them lead productive lives. 

To see a Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) development in operation and address questions on how it could be structured and managed a delegation of 13 city and community leaders from Battle Creek, including Battle Creek’s Assistant City Manager Ted Dearing, recently traveled to the South Shore Commons Permanent Supportive Housing development in Gary, Ind. 

There they met with Ryan Wilson, Development Manager with UPholdings, which has been in talks with the City of Battle Creek for more than three years to develop a Permanent Supportive Housing community here. In September, Wilson came to Battle Creek where he met with city residents at the SHARE Center who would be eligible for this housing option. The delegation also met with those who manage and provide services to residents of South Shore Commons residents.

UPholdings has developed similar complexes in different areas of the United States.
 
Wilson dispelled some commonly-held misconceptions some have about Permanent Supportive Housing during a March 18 presentation to the Battle Creek contingent during the visit to South Shore Commons.
 
“Permanent supportive housing is not a homeless shelter, not a treatment facility, not a rehab, or halfway house. Nor is it public housing or rent-free,” he said. “It is indeed permanent, full-time leaseholders, and they sign Good Neighbor agreements. There’s no time limit on residency with the only exception to qualifying being if someone earns too much money.”
 
The most important word in permanent supportive housing is “supportive,” Wilson said.
 
Lee Talmage, Executive Director for the Battle Creek Housing Commission, in forefront, and Boonikka Herring, Battle Creek City Commissioner, listen to a presentation about the South Shore Commons development.“We try to customize supportive service plans for people so they get services they want. People have the agency to decide to participate in these services. But, it’s not a condition of tenancy,” Wilson says.
 
Services, which are available to residents onsite, include medical and dental care; mental health alcohol and substance abuse counseling; and job training and employment assistance. 
 
Being able to access these services where they live is especially important for residents who lack transportation, have physical challenges, or don’t know how to begin the process of accessing these resources, says Miisha Greier, Property Manager for South Shore Commons.
 
Potential South Shore Commons residents are referred through various organizations that work with the homeless. The cost to house these individuals at a PSH such as South Shore is covered through Indiana’s Shelter Plus Care (S + C), a federal program that provides grants to states for rental assistance, in combination with supportive services from other sources, to assist hard-to-serve homeless persons with disabilities. Homeless shelters throughout Indiana work with S + C.

In addition to Indiana, UPholdings, headquartered in Chicago, Ill., has developed Permanent Supportive Housing and affordable housing complexes in California, Illinois, and Ohio.

Al Obayuwana, UPholdings Director of Community Partnerships, meets with members of the Battle Creek delegation who traveled to Gary, Ind. The company’s current portfolio includes nearly 400 units of affordable, mixed-income, and permanent supportive housing in the pre-development, development, and construction pipeline, according to the UPholdings website. The Permanent Supportive Housing development in Battle Creek would be UPholding's first in Michigan.
 
Wilson says UPholdings puts together a capital stack — layers of different types of funding — for each development. Funding varies state by state.

How much does a Permanent Supportive Housing Development cost? Because of variables such as local and state conditions related to program funding and local construction pricing, Wilson said he would rather not say. 
 
“In Michigan, the bulk of funding comes through LIHTC (Low-Income Housing Tax Credits). Historically, 70 percent of a project would be funded through LITEC,” he says. “Every state gets a certain amount of tax credits to give out each year. But you’re competing with everyone else in the state of Michigan. In our case, we’re competing against other supportive housing projects.”
 
South Shore Commons has 60 residential units, 34 of which house individuals whose rent is covered through S + C, and 26 of which are under the Gary Housing Authority Section 8 program, the federal government's program for assisting low-income families, the disabled, and the elderly afford housing.

The 72,000-square-foot project includes 48 one-bedroom and 12 two-bedroom furnished apartments, with energy-efficient systems and appliances. The building has a laundry room, reception area, computer room, a group gathering space, and a room with fitness equipment.
 
The South Shore site was intentionally located close to public transportation, shopping, schools, churches, banks, daycare, and other small businesses that could serve as places of employment for residents, Wilson says. Similar to other PSH’s, the Gary site was developed using Housing First, a strategy in which stable housing is addressed first, and other issues affecting the household are addressed subsequently.
 
Greier says she and Tim Burleson, a Case Manager, at South Shore commons, meet with those who manage homeless shelters and potential residents to learn about their background and get to know them.
 
“I love what I do because we really get to change someone’s life and give them a better life,” Greier says.
 
Tim Burleson, Service provider for South Shore Commons, explains his role with residents of the development.  Burleson also works for Maram Health Center.Those who want to live at South Shore fill out an application and go through a background check done by UPholdings. They also have their income eligibility requirements verified, says Kelly Brown, Director of Property Management Operations for UPholdings.
 
“If you qualify, we turn you over to Tim’s team to develop a service plan,” Brown says. “There are times when people do not meet the criteria,” such as sex offenders. “We have two-bedroom households that may include children and this is one of the convictions that we absolutely won’t do based on HUD guidelines.”
 
Meeting the tenants where they are
 
A resident who has lived at South Shore since 2013 stopped by during the discussion to talk briefly about the positive impact that living there has had on him. He also gave the Battle Creek contingent a tour of his one-bedroom apartment as part of an overall tour of the residential development following the discussion with Wilson and South Shore Commons staff who are all UPholdings employees.
 
“I was in a homeless shelter. My parents passed away and I came here and Tim got me back on my medications and got me to my appointments,” the resident says. Those appointments included doctor and counseling visits.
 
The services that Burleson orchestrates is supported through his employer Marram Health Center in Gary. Marram is part of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council with a mission “to build an equitable, high-quality health care system through training, research, and advocacy in the movement to end homelessness,” according to its website.
 
UPholdings partnered with Marram to provide services that fulfill the supportive part of the Permanent Supportive Housing model.
 
Wilson says a critical piece of any Permanent Supportive Housing development is identifying an organization that will coordinate and provide services to residents. He says UPholdings has had conversations with Summit Pointe in Battle Creek about being that service provider for a Permanent Supportive Housing development.
 
“Supportive housing only works when we have support from a housing authority and work with different resources locally,” Wilson says. “We work closely with Continuum of Care and other networks already established to identify our populations.”
 
Burleson says South Shore follows the housing model established with UPholdings for each of its developments.
 
A resident's room at South Shore Commons.“It’s all about housing and keeping people housed. Giving them the opportunity to grow is what’s important,” he says. “The services I offer and provide to residents are voluntary. They don’t have to use them. My role is what I call active engagement. I meet the people, talk to the people, find out what their needs are, and connect them with services if that’s what they choose.”
 
Kelly Brown, Director of Property Management Operations for UPholdings, credits Marram’s approach and Burleson’s work to incorporate that at South Shore for the success of the resident’s advancement and growth.
 
When Burleson started working with South Shore’s UPholdings team he says about 65 percent of residents were already participating in services that they wanted to receive. He says the convenience of having a physician, therapist, and caseworker in the building makes it easier and less intimidating for residents to “work with us” and “increases their willingness to participate.”
 
Wilson says when people first move in to any Permanent Supportive Housing, they are moving from a life spent on the streets. Their service needs may be different than they will be two or three years later.
 
“The participation in services and the needs and types of service providers really shift and change,” Wilson says.
 
Burleson says, “Everybody needs something sometime.”

For those who need weekly sessions to address issues that result from homelessness such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia, Burleson can coordinate that. There is a Coping Skills group at South Shore, though he says that may not be enough for some residents.
 
In addition to providing ongoing case management services such as connecting residents with physicians and psychiatrists who come to South Shore, Burleson also works with residents who want to get a job or go back to school. In addition, South Shore partners with organizations in the community, including banks that provide financial literacy and budgeting classes to residents.
 
The benefit of a PSH, he says, is that it provides opportunities that residents aren’t going to get anywhere else.
 
“You have your home, but you also get the services you need,” Burleson says. “Our goal is to keep you housed.”
 
The challenges facing PSH developments
 
The Property Management team at South Shore is charged with making sure residents are paying their rent, keeping their apartments in good condition, and not creating disturbances in the building. The team keeps an eye out for residents who never leave their apartment as that could signal depression or other mental health concerns.
 
“You have to pay attention,” Greier says.
 
Brown says the biggest challenge that she has seen is residents not taking their medications.
 
“When you can see a person starting to spiral, Tim and his team have been proactive in making sure they’re taking meds,” she says. “Hoarding also is a problem affecting a person’s health and safety. But, having a behavioral health and community service arm helps to address instances like this in a timely manner. Tim’s team will do what needs to be done. The person stays housed, but the overall environment of South Shores is not affected. If people are coming from homelessness, just having a roof over their heads is not going to solve all of their problems.”
 
If such concerns surface or if the staff notices a resident who could benefit from services that they haven’t asked for, Burleson steps in.
 
“My role is to serve everybody,” he says. “For the betterment of the building and individuals living here, I actively get involved with tenants.”
 
Despite the continual interaction and communication with tenants and the efforts made to follow the UPholdings model, Wilson says there is always pushback from residents of communities where Permanent Supportive Housing developments are located. He experienced that in January 2021 when the city considered an affordable housing project with UPholdings at 535 W. Van Buren Street. City commissioners voted against it after receiving negative reactions from residents. 
 
“We have a huge public relations challenge when it comes to explaining what Permanent Supportive Housing is,” he says. “I am willing to have as many one-on-one conversations with people as they need to get them to feel comfortable about this as a housing option in their community.”
 
Brown says finding opportunities for the residents of Permanent Supportive Housing to interact with the larger community has proven successful with other PSH developments in breaking down stigma and barriers.
 
“Residents in these communities started to relax and become more accepting of the PSH development when we did activities like beautification projects and held community events,” Brown says. “This gave residents of the community opportunities to interact with PSH tenants and see the successes and eliminate barriers.”
 
Dearing says he thinks educating residents about the benefits of a Permanent Supportive Housing development in Battle Creek is critical and will likely be among the top priorities for those involved in bringing the project to fruition.
 
“The important next step for us is to do education and awareness around this issue and build a supportive coalition who can be advocates for this type of housing so that we can talk about the positives,” he says. “A lot of this will happen informally until we’re at the point when we can focus on a particular site. If we can identify potential sites, we have the need to engage surrounding communities. We’ve got to engage the community in conversations.”



A delegation from Battle Creek poses for a photo before heading inside for a March 18 tour of South Shore Commons, a permanent supportive housing development in Gary, Ind.  Pictured are from left, John Paternoster, Battle Creek Housing Commission Deputy Director; Boonikka Herring, Battle Creek City Commissioner; Chris Lussier, Community Development Manager for the City of Battle Creek; Sam Gray, Battle Creek Housing Commission board member; Sherry Sofia, Battle Creek City Commissioner; and Lee Talmage, Executive Director for the Battle Creek Housing Commission.  Front row from left, John Hart, Director of Small Business Development for the City of Battle Creek; Robert Elchert, Executive Director of the Share Center; Helen Guzzo, Manager, Calhoun County Senior Services and Chair of the Battle Creek Housing Commission Board of Directors; Ted Dearing, Battle Creek Assistant City Manager; Whitney Wardell, Director of Housing Initiatives for Neighborhoods, Inc.; Maggie Honaker, Nonprofit Solutions Consultant, Solve it Forward; and Benita Simmons, Battle Creek Housing Commission board member.
 

Read more articles by Jane Simons.

Jane Simons is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.