The possible construction of a housing complex to permanently house a growing number of the homeless about a mile away from an existing supportive housing complex has some residents worried their neighborhood has become the new site for the homeless community.
"There is not one neighborhood in the city of Tulsa who would not wish to be notified if a project of this size was built in their neighborhood," said State Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa. "The project will mean over 130 rooms for the homeless will be warehoused in the same neighborhood, which is irresponsible and reckless."
The Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless announced its plans to build a 60-unit supportive housing apartment complex called the Hudson Villas to provide permanent housing for the homeless.
The $6 million facility, supported by donations and grants from the department of Housing and Urban Development, will be located at Hudson Ave. and 11th St. within the White City neighborhood. This past January, the Mental Health Association of Tulsa constructed a permanent supportive housing unit, Yale Avenue Apartments, near this same neighborhood at Admiral Blvd. and Yale Ave.
After the Hudson Villas project was announced to the public on June 3, Proctor received more than 200 e-mails, letters and calls from residents asking that he take a stand to defend homeowners. A series of public meetings over the project were held throughout last month where residents of the area made it clear many of them protested the complex.
"People are feeling like they don't have rights," said Joyce Buckner, a White City resident. "It's the way they go about it, the process and the size of the buildings. They told us about it after the fact. We need to be informed before the fact."
Some residents worry the effort to put the homeless population in permanent housing has made their neighborhood the target of this plan.
Mike Brose, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Tulsa, said the idea that organizations are working together to move the homeless population out of shelters downtown to the area near the White City neighborhood is a rumor people hold onto to be able to justify their opposition.
"There's no giant conspiracy," he said. "The list of properties we look at come from all over the city."
MHAT owns and operates more than 15 properties to house the homeless throughout the city. Before construction on the Yale Avenue Apartments began, the organization had 10 properties people drove by everyday and did not realize they housed homeless people, he said.
But when MHAT announced the Yale Avenue Apartments project, which included 76 units with half of those going toward homeless individuals, the public noticed.
"Yale was unique because it had to involve the Tulsa Housing Authority," Brose said. "That's when people began to (have) fear and a lack of understanding took over."
But Buckner said fear was not what drove her and others in the neighborhood to oppose the project. Even after looking at the other properties MHAT owned at the time, she did not understand the reason for the construction, she said.
"(The other property) is an orange, he wanted to build an apple," Buckner said. After six months, Buckner said she has accepted the newcomer to the neighborhood.
"I've embraced it," she said. "I've collected books for their library, but now they're asking me to embrace another one."
Sandra Lewis, executive director for the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless, said the organization did not work with MHAT to determine the location of the Hudson Villas.
"While we work very closely together in a lot of efforts, we're working very independently on housing," she said. "We're not targeting that neighborhood in any way. It really was the best fit for the design we were looking for."
The Day Center put together a committee to find the property for the project, Lewis said.
"We identified 12 different properties and evaluated those properties based on affordability but more importantly, location to bus routes and services that people living in this kind of program would need," she said. "We wanted property where we didn't have to do zoning variances ... We could just purchase land and build on it."
It was important to find an area that would be walking distance to grocery stores, pharmacies and places to eat, Lewis said. The Hudson Villas will also be half a block away from a bus stop.
Brose said the locations of the MHAT units throughout the city were determined by these same services and also by the price, nearby job opportunities and the safety of the area.
These two organizations are not the only ones to take the homeless out of shelters and put them in homes. The shift in housing the homeless has grown to become a national trend, Lewis said.
"It really is a national study that indicates it is healthier, safer, more economical for someone to live in their own apartment than to be living in a shelter," she said. "Federal dollars are now being geared toward permanent housing, not sheltering people. We've identified the fact that we have adequate sheltering in this community, but what we don't have is adequate permanent affordable housing."
The tenants at the Hudson Villas will be screened before being eligible to live in the facility and will have to pay a set rental rate. No violent crime felons or sex offenders will be allowed to live in the apartments, and all residents must abide by house rules, which include no substance abuse. Hudson Villas will have staff on duty 24 hours a day.
While Buckner said she supports helping the homeless, she does not want her neighborhood to become part of an experiment to create permanent housing for those living on the streets and in shelters.
"Let's get them housed, but let's get a plan," she said. "Put a limit on how many we house in one area, and let's get it out in the open so people won't be frightened."
Buckner said White City residents are worried that the creation of another supportive housing unit near their neighborhood might lower the property value in the area.
However, Lewis said the opposite is true.
"Normally, they're taking a vacant piece of land or a dilapidating building and they're building something new or redeveloping something," Lewis said.
She points to a study on the impact of supportive housing on surrounding neighborhoods by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.
According to the study, "properties within 500 feet of supportive housing show steady growth relative to other properties in the neighborhood in the years after supportive housing opens."
Properties 500 to 1,000 feet away show a decline in value when supportive housing first opens, but prices then increase steadily, according to the study.
Buckner said she does not think the neighborhood will be able to stop the construction of the facility. However, after the announcement of the Hudson Villas, residents are now teaming up to stop any chance of homeless organizations constructing more facilities, Proctor said.
"The homeowners are pursuing all avenues, including legal challenges, to ask that the effort to aid the homeless be spread throughout the city rather than in one neighborhood," he said.
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