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Neighbors’ concerns delay South Bend homeless apartments project

Neighbors’ concerns delay South Bend homeless apartments project

By Jeff Parrott South Bend Tribune. Nov 15, 2019

South Bend Heritage wants to reserve up to six units in the 60-unit Gemini Apartments for state-funded rent vouchers for the chronically homeless. The city administration wants to contribute $1 million for exterior repairs, benefiting both the homeless and market-rate units, but agreed Thursday to delay the project a month because neighbors have complained about a lack of communication.

SOUTH BEND — The city administration agreed Thursday to delay for a month its request for redevelopment commission approval to spend $1 million toward the exterior renovation of a near-westside apartment building that would house up to six chronically homeless individuals.

The nonprofit South Bend Heritage Foundation has partnered with the administration to obtain 60 permanent supportive housing vouchers from the state of Indiana. About 20 vouchers have been awarded for a newly built apartment building, and 40 more could be distributed for use in “scattered-site” apartments throughout the city.

The city’s common council in late August rejected South Bend Heritage’s petition to rezone a site in the 1500 block of West Washington, after neighbors fervently opposed the project. At that time, council members said South Bend Heritage should have communicated more with neighbors.

Neighbors and council members again raised that criticism at Thursday’s redevelopment commission meeting, this time over South Bend Heritage’s new plan to reserve up to six of the 30 units in the Gemini Apartments’ Colfax building for permanent supportive housing vouchers.

“I want to apologize for not having coherent thoughts because as a neighborhood, we just found out about this Tuesday,” Jessica Pizer, who lives in the 800 block of Washington, told the commission. “This is a repeat of this summer, when South Bend Heritage just failed to work with the people who live in the neighborhood, who live and work and are trying to make this neighborhood a vibrant neighborhood.”

The commission in March 2018 authorized the administration to spend $1.5 million in tax incremental financing district property tax money on a gateway center for the homeless, a facility, using former portable classrooms donated by Ivy Tech State College, that would offer the chronically homeless immediate shelter while connecting them with services and permanent supportive housing elsewhere. But after the administration had been unable to find a site for the center that wasn’t hotly contested by its neighbors, Mayor Pete Buttigieg decided to instead spend the money on a PSH project with South Bend Heritage.

At Thursday’s meeting, city neighborhood development director Pam Meyer updated the commission on the administration’s change in plans and planned to ask its approval to spend $1 million of the $1.5 million toward roof, masonry and fire stair improvements for the Gemini Colfax building. The building’s other 24 tenants would pay market-rate rents. The city already has given South Bend Heritage $1 million in TIF money for the Gemini building that fronts Washington Street and is all market-rate.

Council members John Voorde and Oliver Davis asked the commission to delay consideration of the request, citing their disappointment in South Bend Heritage for again failing to discuss the new project with neighbors.

Commission member Gavin Ferlic, also a council member, said he agreed that more time could help neighbors feel more comfortable with the project. Ferlic asked Meyer and Jitin Kain, the city’s interim community investment director, if they could wait until the commission’s Dec. 12 meeting to seek the approval. They both nodded in agreement.

After the meeting, Pizer said she wouldn’t object to South Bend Heritage reserving up to six of the building’s 30 units for PSH vouchers, but she wants the organization to put that in writing. She and other neighbors said they worry that South Bend Heritage might increase the number of PSH voucher units over time if it has trouble leasing out the rest at market rates.

When the common council is asked to grant a rezoning to a developer, it can hinge its approval on the developer making legally binding commitments. But in this case, since no rezoning is needed, it was unclear who would be parties to such an agreement. Commission President Marcia Jones said she wasn’t sure whether the commission could play a role.

Kain after the meeting said he didn’t know exactly how such a promise can be made in this situation, but he planned to ask the city’s attorneys and South Bend Heritage about it. South Bend Heritage executive director Marco Mariani did not attend the meeting and did not immediately reply to a voicemail message left on his cell phone afterward.