Ferndale Housing Residents Tour Properties to See RAD Program Results
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Oct. 22, 2018)
Ferndale, Taylor, Ypsilanti, MI- Nearly 40 residents of the Ferndale Housing Commission took a daytrip last week to visit properties that had seen benefits of HUD’s RAD Program. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development created the Rental Assistance Demonstration program as a way for local housing authorities to access capital for improvements to their housing stock.
The Ferndale Housing Commission (FHS) has applied to be part of RAD, leaving a lot of questions for residents who may be impacted. “We are still very early in the process,” said FHC Director Heather VanPoucker. “We may not even get this. But we want residents to be informed every step of the way.”
That’s why VanPoucker went with residents of both apartment buildings – Autumn House and Withington West – and the scattered site homes to check out housing commissions in Ypsilanti and Monroe. Not only did residents get to see the improvements made to the properties, they were able to talk with residents about their experiences with the RAD conversion.
The Ypsilanti property showed a complete tear-down and rebuild, while the Taylor property did simple fixes to make life for residents better.
New Parkridge: Redevelopment in Ypsilanti
New Parkridge is a recently constructed 86-unity affordable housing community with on-site support services for individuals and families. New Parkridge was built, there was a 70-year-old housing complex in extreme disrepair. There was crime and a high number of vacancies due to damage they could not afford to repair. In the public housing program, the commission received only $200,000 a year to maintain 200 units. Limitations on saving money made it impossible for commissions across the country to save for big projects, and there was no mechanism for loans, tax credits, grants, or other private sector partnerships. So like many public housing programs, Ypsilanti’s deteriorated.
By going through a RAD conversion, they were able to secure $34 million over four years for their entire program, $18 million of which went to New Parkridge. In 2016 they moved residents into other Ypsilanti Housing apartments, tore down the old buildings and began reconstruction.
FHC residents broke into groups and toured the 1, 2 and 3 bedroom townhouses. Each unit has a washer and dryer, as well as central air. The 3 bedroom units have a full bath and a half bath. Upper level units have balconies. There are also kids play areas, a child care center, and a community center on the property, which includes a computer lab, onsite maintenance and management, and programs to help the residents learn and prosper.
Ypsilanti Housing Director Zac Fosler spoke about their experience with the RAD program and answered residents’ questions.
“Our residents are proud of where they live,” Fosler said. “It’s a real community for them.”
Fosler talked about concerns that have also come up in other RAD conversions, including in Ferndale.
One major concern was residents being displaced during the process. Fosler said that for remodeling and reconstruction, residents are moved to other properties within the commission. They then have the choice to stay where they have moved or to return to the newly remodeled or reconstructed home. “You absolutely have the right to return,” he said. And, he added, the law requires the commission to foot the bill for moving. “Residents did their own packing, but we hired the moving company,” he said. “If residents had issues packing, we had volunteers help them.”
They also had staff on hand to help with the transition. There was counseling for those who needed emotional support with the heartache and change, as well as staff to help residents with issues like learning new bus routes and transferring cable or other services.
When New Parkridge was complete, about half of the residents who moved decided they liked their temporary apartment and wanted to stay, and about half came back home to a newly built townhome. Fosler stressed that the law gives residents the choice.
Another concern is how the RAD change impacts rent. Residents were moved from subsidized housing plans to Section 8 vouchers. Rent remains based on income, but there is an added benefit to residents in that they have the option to take their Section 8 voucher and move to private sector housing if they chose.
Properties that undergo a RAD conversion are required to remain indefinitely affordable. Contracts with HUD are renewed every 15-20 years, providing long term financial stability for the organizations.
Even though discussion begin early, a RAD application is a long process, with no guarantee of acceptance. It took Ypsilanti three times of applying before they were accepted. Once accepted, it still took about a year of planning to come up with details of the redevelopment.
Fosler said he trusts Ferndale Housing Director Heather VanPoucker, and he understands the process can be frustrating for residents and the community. “Understand this is a long process. She’s doing this process because she cares about you and wants what is best,” he said. “It takes resident involvement and support. When outside pressures are coming in, you need to speak with one voice. You need to say, this is what we want.”
As the Housing Commission goes through the application process, there are public meetings with residents to talk about the needs of the community. If accepted, there is an assessment of the commission’s assets and needs, as well as meetings with residents to discuss what improvements they would like to see happen. Administration also seeks out funding opportunities to make the changes happen.
The Commission itself – made up of local residents – continues to be the governing body, and decisions that are made are done through public meetings with public input.
Anthony Long is a resident and is on the maintenance staff at New Parkridge. “I used to live in the old projects. It was a hot mess. There were shootings, beatings. Zac came in and said ‘We’re gonna tear this place down and start new,’ and he did. Long talked about doing seasonal construction work and the long commutes he would make before getting to work at New Parkridge. “I’m doing the thing that I love and watching my black folks grow,” he said. “We got something nice. My job now is to make sure we keep things nice.”
Maria Richardson gave a tour of her three bedroom upper level home. “I went from struggling to stable in life,” she said. “I didn’t have enough for me and my kids. Now I can pay my rent and take care of them. Everybody in the office is beautiful and treats everyone that comes in the same. We have people that’s there for us. …I would recommend to everyone that they go to the meetings and be involved. You really can be part of something better.”
Another resident shared her wishes with the FHC residents who came to tour her home. “I was a nurse for 27 years when I got laid off,” she said. “I am grateful to be here. I put a lot of pride in this building because it looks nice and it makes me want to keep doing better. It’s a blessing, and I hope you all are blessed too, because this place has changed my life.”
Maplewood Manor, Taylor
After visiting the townhomes in Ypsilanti, FHC residents then went to Maplewood Manor, a seven story apartment complex with 102-units that are 450 sq foot. After the RAD conversion, they were able to put new paint and carpeting in the rooms, as well as make improvements to the community room on the ground floor.
They also added storage space for residents as well as new laundry rooms.
They are currently looking at funding opportunities to have air conditioning installed, as well as new windows.
During lunch, Ferndale Housing Director VanPoucker talked about some of the possibilities in Ferndale. Ferndale Housing Commission has 166 units, including 43 houses scattered though the city, Autumn House (with 55 units) and Withington West (with 68 units).
With a RAD conversion, properties could be reconfigured with the main stipulation being there must be at least the same amount of bedrooms available in total. Currently the scattered homes require a great deal of maintenance, with aging roofs and heating among the concerns in some homes. The apartment buildings are also aging and in need of repair.
“We have 43 properties that we could get down to 10-15 properties with new townhomes on them,” VanPoucker said. “Looking at these homes here [in Ypsilanti] can give you an idea of what we could have in Ferndale.”
Other possibilities include renovations to Autumn House and Withington that could include air conditioning, more laundry facilities, improved community room, and more energy efficient features.
VanPoucker said that the application has been submitted to HUD, but she has not yet heard back from them. Residents will be notified if the process moves forward, and will be involved in all discussion.
“We toured these two properties to show the range of potential work that RAD opens up. At one end of the spectrum is what Taylor did, which was mostly cosmetic and modernizing without needing to borrow or use tax credits and had very minimal impact on residents’ convenience. It was a pretty “quick and easy” fix, and likely, hopefully, what we can accomplish at Withington,” VanPoucker said. “At the other end of the spectrum is the major redevelopment undertaken by Ypsilanti which provides brand new modern housing with a much larger price tag and a major change for residents, including temporary relocation. Depending on how everything goes with our application, and with our financing plans, perhaps we can achieve that kind of transformational change for Autumn House. What I believe in my heart is that our residents deserve better and RAD is a program that can deliver.”
Ferndale Housing Commission Aiming for Grand Upgrades
Ferndale Housing Commission
Ypsilanti Housing Commission
Taylor Housing Commission
HUD RAD Program