By the WPHA staff
A detailed explanation of a federally funded project to house single young adults who have aged out of foster care seemed to ease concerns and promote acceptance for a 14-unit apartment building at 7540 Washington street.
Diane Botwin, a long-time local developer, has teamed up with several agencies to bring the $2.2 million project to Waldo. But an initial lack of information about the project caused an uproar of protest, prompting Botwin’s appearance at the Waldo Tower Homes Association neighborhood meeting on March 14 at the Waldo Library.
Most area residents were not aware of the project until January, when they saw a sign at the site announcing the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for apartments owned by reStart Housing Services, Inc.
A vocal minority complained to local print and broadcast media that the project would hurt property values, prompt residents to move and change the character of the Waldo neighborhood.
Even some supporting the project were disappointed by a lack of transparency. Botwin apologized for any confusion, though it was claimed that the project was not certain to move forward until HUD funding was assured in November.
The project is in response to the predicament in which those between the ages of 18 and 24 find themselves once they leave their foster homes.
More than 800 young adults aged out of foster care in Jackson County in 2013, the last year for which statistics are available. Nationally, it is projected that one in five in that category will become homeless after age 18. Only 58 percent graduate from high school by age 19. Within two years of being aged out, one in four is involved in the criminal justice system. By age 24, half is unemployed.
Clearly, the 14 units in Waldo, which will be ready in the fall, will only meet the critical needs for a small segment of this at-risk population. Residents will be professionally screened, have a case manager and social services support network, and be required to be in school, working, seeking employment or volunteering in the community.
Under HUD regulations, residents will pay no more in rent than 30 percent of their income or college Pell grants.
Discussions for this project began in 2009 and Waldo emerged as the most practical location. Botwin owned the property and is a long-time volunteer for reStart, a Kansas City interfaith ministry to the homeless. When she learned that HUD had funding for transitional housing, she worked with reStart to begin the project, She now serves as its community liaison.
The Washington location offers easy access to major bus lines, food and drug stores and the Waldo library branch. State Representative Jeremy LaFaver and City Councilman John Sharp, whose districts include Waldo, both voiced support for the project. Sharp pointed out that no public hearings were required by the city because no rezoning was needed.
Project representatives took questions from a largely supportive audience, which raised the main issues that have swirled around the apartments.
The biggest issue involved crime prevention with at-risk young adults. One partner, ReDiscover, is a community mental health agency that helps those affected by serious mental illness and substance abuse.
Jean Schweer of ReDiscover said the agency has been involved with supportive housing for 10 years with few crime issues. It also was noted that a staff member will live in one unit and be on site 24 hours a day. Project managers will be charged with checking that all residents are involved in work or school.
Tobacco and alcohol will not be allowed. Visitors must sign in and cannot stay. Security measures will include cameras and key-fob access.
A website is being set up to allow public contact will those overseeing the project, including the resident manager. It also will include information about starting a mentorship program.
Waldo Tower Homes Association secretary Elizabeth Hollins contributed to this story