Our Frederick Affordable Housing Development Initiative, made possible thanks to generous support from two state agencies and four local area foundations, funded the purchase and substantial improvements to two properties in the City of Frederick, transforming these buildings into quality, affordable, permanent housing for individuals and families living with psychiatric disabilities and Extremely Low Income.
With some of the highest market rents in Maryland ($1,307 for an efficiency apartment), it’s nearly impossible for someone living on just a $733 SSI disability payment to find a decent place to live in Frederick County. (1)
Despite rapid population growth over the past few years, the supply of affordable housing stock has not kept up with the increased need - especially within the City of Frederick, where only 125 new rental units have been added over the last decade according to the 2011 Frederick County Human Needs Assessment Report published by The Community Foundation of Frederick County. That sweeping analysis of county data and citizen input puts it plainly: “Frederick County faces a shrinking supply of affordable rental housing… Almost all surveyed providers of affordable housing services agree that the demand is greater than the capacity of all Frederick County providers.” (2)
A “stable and safe place to live” is recognized by SAMHSA as one of the four major dimensions that support a life in recovery, but people living with mental illness and extremely limited income face multiple barriers to securing and maintaining independent housing in the community. (3) MSH was proud to begin offering truly affordable housing for Frederick residents living with psychiatric disabilities in 2007, when we purchased our 3-unit apartment building in the downtown area. We knew one day we’d return to create more quality, supportive and independent housing in this booming community, and we have been overwhelmingly gratified to find enthusiastic new partners in our successful Frederick Affordable Housing Development Initiative this year.
After being awarded grant funding through the MD Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Administration-Sponsored Capital Bond program, MSH began the search for two new homes to buy in the City of Frederick back in Summer 2015. As is often the case, finding properties that met our rigorous criteria and budget in a highly desirable metropolitan area wasn’t easy. Frederick’s rapid population growth over the last few years meant increased demand in the real estate market, with a high median home sale price.
One of the most important criteria within MSH’s property selection process is ensuring a property will provide a quality home for either of two scenarios: single adult individuals as co-tenants or for a family with sole occupancy. Just having a flexible floorplan isn’t enough, of course. Each property also needs to be affordable to maintain and located close to the community amenities and services tenants need to stay well, like grocery stores, public transit, health services, employment and social opportunities.
These factors are an integral part of our innovative “Main Street Model,” which “enables consumers to continue to improve our wellness and build our recovery on an essential, stable and supportive foundation,” explains Eric Wakefield, MSH Board of Directors Member and Executive Director of On Our Own Frederick.
After months of searching, we successfully identified two properties that were Main Street material. Our new 3-story townhome is located in a cheerful community on the east side of town and features a beautifully open floorplan on the main level as well as two master bedroom suites. The other new property presented a unique opportunity: a large split-level home in a quiet neighborhood on the north side that could very comfortably house three individuals with plenty of privacy after we renovated the basement area to add a kitchenette. MSH applied for matching funding for the property purchases from the MD Department of Housing and Community Development, and between the two state agencies we were able to secure significant support for the basement renovation as well.
Already our initiative was going even better than expected, as we’d be able to offer yet one more person living with psychiatric disabilities an affordable home in a great community. When the inspection reports of each property came back to us, however, we knew we were going to need some help to make this dream a reality.
When MSH purchases a property, we commit to delivering decades of quality, affordable housing with ongoing property maintenance. While our two new Frederick properties were the best we found on the market and in great shape overall, more than $17,000 worth of repair work between the two buildings would need to be completed in order to meet our standards for property quality and pass required inspections. Our skilled Maintenance Worker, John Allen, would be able to tackle a number of tasks, but some rehab work required a licensed contractor. The most critical undertaking would be to proactively replace the aged heat pumps at both properties to ensure affordable, dependable heat for the tenants.
We were tremendously fortunate to receive generous grant funding toward our highest priority repairs from four of Frederick County’s most esteemed foundations:
“Main Street Housing received a grant from the Community Foundation’s Basic Human Needs Strategic Initiatives Fund in FY2016 in support of its efforts to increase the number of housing units in Frederick County for people with mental illness,” said Elizabeth Y. Day, President and CEO. “The Grants Committee saw the benefit of supplementing funding that Main Street Housing received from the State of Maryland so that people who are precariously housed and at a high risk for chronic homelessness have stable residences, and an opportunity to live as independently as possible. The Committee has seen the progress of housing becoming available since the grant was provided, and is very pleased with these results.” MSH also received funding from CFFC’s Unrestricted Fund through a FY 16 Impact Grant
“The Ausherman Family Foundation is pleased to have provided Main Street Housing with a $4,000 grant to develop these two high-quality, affordable rental housing properties,” explained Director Leigh K. Adams. “The project fits in ideally with the Foundation’s desire to effect positive change in the Frederick community for all its citizens. We believe it was money well spent to help provide supportive housing for individuals and families living with psychiatric disabilities who fall below the poverty level.”
“In our mission to support programs and services that enrich communities and families, the need for affordable housing is paramount,” said Delaplaine Foundation President Marlene B. Young. “The work being done through Main Street Housing is a perfect alignment with our mission... it enriches lives and communities by providing independent, affordable “Main Street” housing in Frederick County for those who are challenged by disabilities [and] allows these individuals and families to participate in the community with dignity, equality and freedom to develop meaningful relationships and activities with their neighbors and community at large. We applaud the work being done through Main Street Housing.”
“For many working individuals and families finding affordable and quality housing is very hard, now imagine how hard it is for people with psychiatric disabilities,” says Malcolm Furgol, Community Investment Manager of United Way of Frederick County. “Main Street Housing does a wonderful job of providing safe and stable housing to this population… [with a] priority system that places citizens in the most disadvantaged circumstances at the top. Main Street Housing not only provides citizens in need with quality homes, but also shows that people with psychiatric disabilities can successfully live and participate in the community with dignity and equality and lead a self-directed, meaningful life.”
“The generous support from four local organizations that helped to make this possible certainly demonstrates the level of understanding and compassion of the citizens of the county,” said Shelley Tinney, former MSH Board of Directors member, longtime Frederick County resident and past Executive Director of Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth (MARFY). “Hopefully, this is just the beginning.”
“I have discovered that housing does have an immense impact... Since moving to Main Street, I feel more at peace. It is like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I can decorate my office and make it the way that suits me. I can have my own space and do things at my own pace. Little things like that make a world of a difference,” said Kevin, the first tenant to move into one of the new MSH Frederick properties. He had first applied to Main Street Housing in July 2014, at which time we had no vacancies in Frederick County, and had been living in a Residential Rehabilitation Program (RRP) since 2008.
It’s not just that “mental illness makes life difficult,” reminds Wakefield. “These difficulties and the diagnostic labels that come with them often prevent us from obtaining decent long term housing. How much progress can any of us make if we don't have decent housing?”
As of September 2016, four of the five new tenant opportunities are occupied, and we are actively interviewing applicants for the last spot. With a renewable Lease Agreement and an Average Length of Stay of more than four years for tenants who complete the Initial Term, our newest Frederick tenants are looking at a whole new world of possibilities from the front door of their new home ‘on Main Street.’