Guest Blog: Historic Rehab for Permanent Supportive Housing

The FWD #G17  •  682 Words

This is a guest blog from Restoration Housing.

Low-Density integration into a Historic Roanoke neighborhood allows PSH partnership to thrive.

We at Restoration Housing recently completed an extensive rehab of a 130-year-old home that had been in a severe state of disrepair. The house had been vacant for years and mismanaged for decades before we were gifted the property in 2018. It sat on a dead-end block situated between the interstate and the local homeless shelter. Given the limitations of the location, it originally appeared to offer few opportunities for redevelopment, but its new purpose as Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) for previously unhoused individuals turned out to be the perfect solution. 

As we began to consider this redevelopment plan, we met with the City of Roanoke Human Services division to determine the highest need for housing within the city’s unhoused population and found that PSH options for individuals, rather than families, were most needed. The large 3,200 square foot house had previously been used as four single bedroom apartments, making it ideal to continue its use with that particular layout. 

The next step was to look for construction funding and nonprofit partners to make the project viable. The Virginia Housing Trust Fund offered specific grants for PSH projects, for which this project seemed ideally suited. While the typical grant applicant would likely have more than four units, this project was still competitive largely because of its low density, not in spite of it. In the application process, one of the scoring criteria focused on “reducing the concentration of poverty” in the development of PSH housing so as to encourage smaller scale projects to utilize the funding. 

After we were awarded the grant, we began the process of partnering with ARCH Services, a nonprofit in the Roanoke region which provides supportive services to individuals and families rebuilding their lives after homelessness, addiction, and crisis. ARCH works with local landlords by mitigating their risk in leasing to vulnerable populations. ARCH holds the master leases for each unit with Restoration Housing and they pay the rent through PSH vouchers. They also provide case management for each tenant, which includes behavioral counseling, financial counseling, and constant check-ins. 

Once the partnership was in place, we were ready to begin the extensive construction process. Construction included stabilization, demolition of substandard modern building materials, restoration or in-kind replacement of all historic fabric (e.g.  original wooden windows, hardwood flooring, hardwood doors and trim, and all exterior details), as well as the installation of all new plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems, and the addition of modern living amenities (e.g. custom cabinetry, granite countertops, and all new appliances). The substantial construction costs were fully funded by the PSH grant from the Virginia Housing Trust Fund in combination with State and Federal Historic Tax Credits and support from several other community foundations.  

While many affordable rental development projects are somewhat dense, the small size of this project was actually its most essential feature. It allowed for an extremely vulnerable population to be safely housed without straining the supportive services that would be needed for each tenant. It also allowed our organization to use an existing structure that was integrated into the neighborhood, matching the scale of the other houses on the block and therefore allowing for the inconspicuous inclusion of PSH in an existing neighborhood without the backlash that higher density, newer construction projects often attract. 

Our organization completed the rehabilitation of 326 Dale Avenue in the fall of 2020 and welcomed four formerly unhoused tenants soon thereafter. Executive Director Isabel Thornton said, “This is not a transitional home. It is a home for the indefinite future. We hope our tenants feel secure and supported in this space for many years to come.”  What was once a blighted property on a dead-end street is now the brightest house on the block, reflecting the time and care invested in its rehabilitation by so many and its future as a dignified place to call home.  

For more information about Restoration Housing, as well as additional before and after images and a construction tour of 326 Dale Avenue, visit our website.

Restoration Housing is a nonprofit affordable housing developer located in Roanoke, VA with a focus on restoring blighted properties for their reuse as affordable rental opportunities.

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