|Highland Heights city building. The proposed young adult housing and education center is on NKU property but can be seen from the Highland Heights ball field. |
by Robin Gee, city council beat editorA former juvenile detention center that has stood empty for more than a decade may get a new life as a renovated housing and education center for low- to moderate-income young adults. The building, owned by Northern Kentucky University (NKU), sits on university property behind Callahan Hall. It is in disrepair and has been used for storage in recent years.
The Northern Kentucky social service agency Brighton Center proposes to turn the building into "Opportunity House," a facility that would include 14 to 16 efficiency housing units and an onsite education support program for young people who are working and pursuing their secondary education part-time.
Brighton Center and NKU are working together to develop the project, which may be eligible for a federal community block grant. Due to the rules of the program, only a city government can make the application for the grant and then would serve as a pass through for the funds.
The Community Block Grant Program
Tammy Weidinger, president and CEO, and Wonda Winkler, executive vice president, of the Brighton Center presented their proposal at the October meeting of the Highland Heights City Council. City officials were favorable to the idea and passed a resolution to apply for the funds on behalf of Brighton Center and NKU.
Dennis Elrod of Adkins, Elrod and Associates was also on hand at the meeting to explain the particulars of the block grant. His company has had extensive experience with the HUD block grant program and worked with Highland Heights on the Highland Village, another project funded through the program.
Elrod explained how the Opportunity House project would fit the requirements for the grant. Housing and Urban Development provides $25 million a year to Kentucky. Of that amount about $3 million is available for the community block grant. Many but not all Kentucky counties are eligible. The maximum allowable for each grant is $1 million.
The project must meet one of three national objectives: It must eliminate slums and blight, address an imminent threat to health and safety or it must benefit persons of low- to moderate-income. Opportunity House, he said, easily meets the third criteria.
He also explained that the city would have no financial obligation by making the application. If the application is granted, the city would receive the funding and disperse it to Brighton Center. He also noted a time crunch to apply for a 2020 grant. Applications have to be in by the end of January but there are approvals needed along the way. The best scenario would be for the city to make the application as soon as possible.
Part of the requirements of the grant would be for the city to hire a grant administrator (to be paid for by the grant). He urged the city to open up bids for the position. The city opened up for bids directly after the October meeting. Elrod's firm applied and was hired to serve as grant administrator. The city passed a resolution hiring the firm at the November 3 city council meeting.
Opportunity House promises more than affordable housing
Opportunity House would be aimed at young people age 18 to 24 who are either aging out of the foster care system or who have limited financial and personal support. The students would learn life skills and receive support in achieving their educational goals, as well as subsidized housing. In exchange, the students would have to meet certain expectations and participate fully in the programs.
Weidinger emphasized the experience and expertise of the Brighton Center. "We work in the areas of early childhood education, youth services, family services, financial education, workforce development and recovery services for women," she said.
Brighton also has a subsidiary corporation called Brighton Properties that is the housing and community development arm of the organization. Brighton Properties operates 291 units of affordable housing in Northern Kentucky, primarily for seniors. They also are the educational programming contractor for Scholar House in Newport, a similar project that serves single mothers.
"This is an opportunity to do something really innovative in Northern Kentucky that’s not offered right now in a space that is unique and doesn’t come along every day," Weidinger said.
She explained that the mission of Brighton Center is to provide support and opportunities for people to become self-sufficient. She said she is confident the project will support their mission.
"We know this combination of support with life skills and housing with education is really what it’s going to take for these young people to reach self-sufficiency," she added.
City officials are in the process of completing the application. News should come after January on the grant.