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Elyria Finance Committee gives split vote to homeless housing

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ELYRIA — City Council’s Finance Committee split a vote Monday to object to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency’s financing arrangement for a $12 million supportive housing project on East Bridge Street aimed at helping the homeless transition to permanent housing.

At issue is the location of the proposed complex by PIRHL Developers just east of downtown, which city officials said would be better suited for future commercial development.

The Finance Committee’s vote was 2-to-2, with Council members Jack Baird, R-at large, and Mike Lotko, D-at large, voting no and Councilmen Marcus Madison, D-5th Ward, and Larry Tanner, D-1st Ward, voting yes. Committee chairman Councilman Vic Stewart, D-at large, recused himself from the discussion because his employer, Bramhall Engineering & Surveying Co., is the engineering firm hired by PIRHL to work on the project.

The committee report will be sent to Council for further consideration.

The complex is a 62-unit, three-story building for homeless individuals, some with disabilities. Plans are for it to be built at 338 East Bridge St., on the north side of the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks and atop the former site of the Hilltop House Restaurant.

Mayor Holly Brinda and Law Director Scott Serazin said the city had the right to object to the project through the OHFA housing tax credit approval process, but must provide OHFA with a formal objection by April 3.

Zoning along that stretch of East Bridge Street is “general business,” under which high-density residential is a permitted use. So the objection would not be on the basis of zoning but an “objection to the financing arrangement,” Serazin told the committee.

He also warned the committee that what they were voting on is a “delicate issue.” Objecting to the development “may be seen as motivated by other purposes.”

“You have to make a very difficult decision,” Serazin told the committee. “There is no guarantee this appeal will be granted.”

Baird told PIRHL representatives “I applaud your efforts. It’s a good plan.”

“But I don’t think this is the right place,” he said. “There are other places that could fit the bill.”

The Lorain County Land Bank sold the East Bridge Street property to PIRHL and its partners, including Emerald Development and Economic Network, or EDEN Inc. Brinda said the city had a positive reaction to the proposed project — just not its location.

“We advised we welcome those types of developments but question the location,” she said, adding that the city tried to work with PIRHL to “identify a better site.”

The city would prefer, Brinda said, to keep that property open for future commercial development along East Bridge Street and instead help developers find other property in the city on which to build a multiresidential, high-density building. She said that could include property along West River Road, while Madison offered that his ward, encompassing the city’s south side, might be a good location for such development.

“Clearly there’s a need,” Madison said.

PIRHL and New Sunrise Properties most recently developed a former mobile home park between Third Street and West River Road into The Cottages at Riverview for residents 55 and older. That area of the city is more appropriate for PIRHL’s plans, Brinda said.

Kevin Brown, a vice president for development at PIRHL, told the committee the Lorain County Board of Mental Health and The Nord Family Foundation also are partners in the project. The Nord Center will provide services to the residents of the complex, which will have 24-hour staffing, nighttime security personnel, more than 40 surveillance cameras and in-house counseling.

“We think it’s an attractive use of a vacant lot,” he said. The goal, he said, is “housing first” for those rendered homeless by abuse, human trafficking, physical or mental illness.

Depending on their situations, residents may stay “as long as they see fit,” Brown said. That could mean permanent residency in the building, or temporary housing until they marry, move in with family or transition to another rental or owner-occupied housing situation.

Rents will be subsidized and no more than 30 percent of a resident’s income, either from employment or Social Security, Brown said.

PIRHL plans to start construction in spring 2020, with completion estimated within 13 months, he said, offering tours of similar complexes for anyone on City Council or Elyria police.

Eleven other PIRHL developments totaling 700 housing units have helped create an 86 percent drop in “chronic” or long-term homelessness in Cuyahoga County, Brown said.

The OHFA is expected to make its decision on awarding a next round of housing tax credits on or about May 15.

Contact Dave O’Brien at (440) 329-7129 or do’brien@chroniclet.com. Follow him at @daveobrienCT on Twitter.


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