ELYRIA — City Council voted 9-0 Monday night to send an objection to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency over tax credits it may award to Bridge Pointe Commons, a planned permanent supportive housing project on East Bridge Street. City officials said there might be a better location for the project elsewhere in the city.
While city officials and City Council said they didn’t object to helping the homeless and those in need find permanent housing, they do object to where the three-story, high-density residential development is going: a part of the city where officials hoped to encourage commercial development.
“I feel like Elyria is in need of this, and it is no doubt a quality product,” Mayor Holly Brinda told City Council prior to its vote. The city, however, “would welcome conversation and an opportunity to help inform the location of this development.”
“There may be some better sites for this,” she said, as the current plan places Bridge Pointe Commons “on the edge of our Opportunity Zone where we are trying to encourage more commercial development.”
One of two residents who spoke in opposition of the plan, Ann Rothel, questioned City Council whether the towns or cities where Bridge Pointe’s residents came from would share in the cost of Elyria city services that the new Elyria citizens would use. If many are homeless, Rothel surmised, that means they have little income or transportation.
“You can secure a building, but how can you secure my neighborhood?” she asked City Council. “How are you going to make them productive citizens?”
Law Director Scott Serazin also reminded Council members that the vote was a very specific one against the financing arrangement for the proposed $13 million development. The OHFA requires all objections be presented by April 2, with its decision on housing tax credits expected to come in mid-May.
City Council’s Finance Committee had deadlocked on a 2-2 vote March 11 to recommend the objection, but council members on Monday unanimously accepted the minority report from the committee.
Two Council members didn’t participate in the vote. Councilman Mark Jessie, D-3rd Ward, was not present and excused from the meeting, while Councilman Vic Stewart, D-at large, recused himself from the discussion and the vote because his employer, Bramhall Engineering & Surveying Co., is involved in the project.
If financing moves forward above the city’s objection, Bridge Pointe Commons is expected to break ground next spring for a spring 2021 grand opening, said Richard Carr, director of construction and facilities for Emerald Development and Economic Network Inc., or EDEN.
EDEN is dedicated to providing safe, secure, decent and affordable housing to those who have experienced housing insecurity or homelessness, according to its website. Other partners in the project are PIRHL, an affordable housing development firm in Cleveland, The Nord Family Foundation, The Nord Center and Lorain County Board of Mental Health.
The development is not a homeless shelter, but a series of 62 one-bedroom apartments. Each measures 570 square feet and will be leased to tenants who have experienced homelessness, are victims of violence or have health-related issues that affect their housing choices.
Rent will be subsidized and will be no more than 30 percent of a resident’s income from employment or Social Security. The building will be staffed 24/7, with multiple surveillance cameras, 24-hour on-call property management and on-site support staff provided by The Nord Center.
There are no income or compliance requirements for potential tenants at Bridge Pointe Commons, EDEN Executive Director Elaine Gimmel told City Council. Rather, tenants will be encouraged to participate in counseling services, meet with social workers and case managers in an “evidence-based” program aimed at ending homelessness.
While participation in the provided services is not required, Gimmel said 98 percent of EDEN’s other permanent supportive housing tenants in the Cleveland area participate. That has helped Cuyahoga County reduce chronic homelessness by 86 percent, she said, inviting City Council members on a tour next month of an EDEN project in Cleveland.
Graham Welling, a development coordinator at PIRHL, told City Council that the partners focused on the East Bridge Street location because of its location on a bus line close to a grocery store (it is two-tenths of a mile east of the Save-A-Lot at 125 Cleveland St.) along with several pharmacies, University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center and downtown Elyria.
The property — the former site of the Hilltop House Restaurant and currently an empty lot — was purchased from the Lorain County Port Authority Land Bank in November. Welling said PIRHL discussed the project with city officials first in July, again in November and a third time in January.
After hearing Brinda and the city’s objections, “we discussed several alternative sites” for the project, he said. All were rejected as “lacking in amenities or transit” for potential residents “or too expensive” for the partnership to purchase.
In response to a question about whether it could change locations at this point in the process, Welling told Councilman Tom Callahan, D-at large, that the partnership already submitted its tax credit application to the OHFA and therefore “could not change the location” of Bridge Pointe Commons.
Callahan also asked Police Chief Duane Whitely to weigh in on the public safety and mental health issues the development raised. Whitely replied that his department works hand-in-hand with the Lorain County Board of Mental Health, and said he realized “facilities like this are needed.”
However, Whitely said he had concerns about whether 24/7 staffing would continue at the complex on a permanent basis and also said he “assumed” calls for service would go up once the complex was built.
Despite the vote, Brinda promised that “the city is in favor of this type of project, and will certainly welcome any individuals associated with this project.”