The Morehead News

May 6, 2011

New housing for domestic violence survivors

By Noelle Hunter - Staff Writer
CNHI

May 6, 2011 —     Six local families eagerly await the day they can move into their new apartments. They are domestic violence survivors—women and children who have overcome fear and homelessness to bloom again on their own terms and in their own space.

    “The women who are moving in here have left their abusers and are planning for the future,” said Patricia Collinsworth, executive director of Domestic Violence Emergency Services of Gateway, Inc., or DOVES.

    “They’ve developed structure and support and are integrated into the community through religion, work, education or other means,” she added.

    Three two-bedroom and three one-bedroom apartments will accommodate six families, most of whom have young children. One apartment is equipped for the hearing impaired, and another is handicapped accessible.

    Tenants must meet certain eligibility criteria. They must have a history of domestic violence victimization, have an income of 50 percent or below the area median income and may not permit former perpetrators in their residences.

    All six units have been rented to former residents of DOVES domestic violence shelter, although applicants need not have lived in shelter to be eligible.

    While DOVES will not manage the property, staff will still provide tenants with case management services such as budgeting, credit counseling and expense planning, to help them continue on a successful path.

    At the new units, contractors are putting on exterior finishes and correcting minor problems that have delayed issuance of a certificate of occupancy.

    Construction site superintendent Paul Newland, of Louisville-based Bosse & Matingly Construction, said he knows “every nook and cranny” of the apartments, and said they were constructed to give tenants an energy-efficient, and beautiful, place to live.

    “We’ve been with this project since the very beginning. All of the appliances have energy star ratings, and the project was been done with care and thought for the women and children who will live here,” Newland said.

    DOVES is one of 15 domestic violence shelters in the state with oversight from the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association (KDVA). Four years ago, KDVA economic justice programs director Mary O’Doherty approached the KDVA board with a proposition.

    “We received tax credits through the Kentucky Housing Corporation,” O’Doherty said.

    “We approached our board of directors and told them we had tax credits to build income-based housing that would help women and their families transition to self-sufficiency,” she added.

    “Pat was one of the first shelter directors to stand up. She already had the land available and it had a foundation, so we moved forward,” O’Doherty said.

    Kentucky Housing Corporation is the state’s housing finance agency. O’Doherty said it was KHC initiative, and stimulus money from the Obama administration, that pulled the project from drawing board to construction.

    “None of this would have happened without Kentucky Housing Corporation,” she said.

    When the economy stalled and the banking crisis began, it was nearly impossible for us to sell our tax credits. Somehow we were able to push through, and when the stimulus money became available in 2009, we moved ahead full speed,” O’Dockerty said.

    She said KHC exists to help foster the development of income-based housing, and that the tax credits make it attractive for investors to get behind projects like this.

    The Low Income Housing Tax Credit, or LIHTC, gives the private market incentive to invest in affordable rental housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website.

    Federal housing tax credits are awarded to developers of qualified projects. In this case, KHC was awarded tax credits and then partnered with KDVA to sell these credits to investors to raise capital for the $1.38 million DOVES project, as well as for transitional housing at three other shelter sites in the state.

    Tax credits reduce the debt that the developer would otherwise have to borrow. Because the debt is lower, a tax credit property can in turn offer lower, more affordable rents, according to HUD.

    O’Doherty said affordable housing is a formidable barrier for many women seeking to be free from domestic violence, and that the new apartments will help women overcome that obstacle.

    “Often housing is the most significant barrier for a survivor. They really want to leave their abusers but are afraid they won’t be able to provide for themselves and their children,” O’Doherty said.

    Collinsworth said the apartments represent the next step for DOVES in helping women live and thrive. 

    “DOVES is important for survivors. We are pretty good at providing a safe house when they leave their abusers, but we want to work harder to help them become self-sufficient,” Collinsworth said.

    “If we can help with housing, we believe we can help survivors find their way,” she added.

    Once the keys are turned, the apartments will be managed by Winterwood, and Lexington-based independent housing management firm. That may be a welcome relief for DOVES staff, who have pulled double duty working to attract and screen new tenants.

    “Christy and Amanda have both worked so hard to bring this to fruition,” both Collinsworth and O’Doherty said of two DOVES staff members.

    “They’ve shown tremendous compassion for survivors and also are realistic about what kinds of quality case management will continue once the residents are in their apartments,” O’Doherty said.

    In response to some concern about the new apartments’ proximity to the domestic violence shelter, Collinsworth said isolation is not good for the residents or the community.

    “Keeping shelters isolated is no longer the best way to help women. It’s different than it used to be. Women need to be involved in the community, and we need to envelop the community in our purpose,” Collinsworth said.

    She said families in shelter interact with the community through adult education, the public schools, legal and social services, and through mental and physical health services.

    O’Doherty said DOVES expansion and exposure in the community is part of a trend among the 15 shelters throughout the state.

    “The trend really is among shelters becoming more prominent members of the community. It’s been the case for years in urban areas like Lexington and Louisville. Everyone knows where the women’s shelter is,” she said.

    Collinsworth said security will still be of paramount importance for the shelter and for the new housing units.

    “The shelter has fencing around the entire perimeter and we have electronic surveillance for both the shelter and the apartments,” Collinsworth said. She said also that Morehead Police always respond quickly anytime they call.

    “We’re located 100 feet from the city police transfer station. We’ve always had a car here two minutes from the time we call,” she added.

    Noelle Hunter can be reached at nhunter@themoreheadnews.com or by telephone at 784-4116.