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Lorain Planning Commission approves apartments for people experiencing homelessness

Project has drawn mixed reaction from neighbors, businesses
Posted at 1:03 AM, Jun 08, 2023

LORAIN, Ohio — A controversial housing project in Lorain has cleared a major hurdle. Wednesday, the Lorain Planning Commission approved a proposal to build a 62-unit apartment building with services for people experiencing long-term homelessness.

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The project, spearheaded by nonprofit co-developers EDEN, Inc. and CHN Housing Partners, is planned to occupy an unused lot on Broadway and 21st Street in central Lorain. A similar concept opened last year in Elyria called Bridge Pointe Commons.

“The best part is they burst into happy tears. And it’s always like, ‘This is the first time I’ve had my own place.’ And they’ll be a 40, 50-year-old person standing across from you,” explained Bridge Pointe Commons property manager Chris Jordan.

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Bridge Pointe Commons in Elyria

He took News 5 on a tour of the facility Wednesday, pointing out the secure entrance and security desk, furnished one-bedroom apartments and first-floor wrap-around services. Residents have access to mental health counseling, a food pantry and a computer lab, along with more typical amenities like laundry facilities and a community room.

“They give you such an opportunity,” said Jeff Sweeney. “Where I was before in life was in a bad place.”

Sweeney moved into Bridge Pointe Commons several months after it opened. Prior to the permanent supportive housing complex, the army veteran explained an untreated mental illness led to several stretches of homelessness.

“Being homeless is not fun, living in your car,” Sweeney said.

While receiving assistance for his mental health at the Nord Center in Lorain, the service provider recommended he move into the new apartment building. Sweeney said the consistent housing and access to services have been life-changing.

“It gives you a lot of confidence. You can better yourself,” he said. “I don’t have to rely on anyone. I’m self-sufficient.”

EDEN, Inc. operates the Elyria facility and plans to open a similar concept at the Lorain site with partner agency CHN Housing partners. The apartment building would feature similar services and 62 units, including 12 dedicated to veterans experiencing homelessness.

Since the proposal was introduced, it’s been received with mixed reactions by neighbors, nearby business owners and city leaders. Some say they support the concept but not the location.

“Yes, it’s a good project, but it’s like Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come. If you build a facility for 60-70 people, you will have way more than that,” said Lorain City Council Member Mary Springowski. “It’s not necessarily going to address the homelessness situation. We will get more homeless here that are looking for assistance.”

Springowski said she’s been fielding concerns from neighbors and nearby business owners, who worry the facility will attract trouble to the neighborhood. Fligner’s Market, which has anchored the next block down for nearly 100 years, has threatened to relocate if the project moves forward.

“If it disrupts our business - absolutely. And we employ 112 employees in the store, plus I don’t know how many my son employs in the sausage plant,” said Kel Fligner, who inherited the business from his grandfather and father and recently passed it on to his son.

Springowski pointed to a lengthy list of police calls to the Bridge Pointe building since it opened. There have been 97 calls for service since April of 2022. The majority ended without arrests, warnings or police reports. Twenty-one were 911 hang-up calls.

EDEN, Inc. and CHN Housing Partners explained many of the residents living in their facilities have been chronically homeless and are adapting to their stability. EDEN, Inc. representatives said they have been gathering feedback from nearby businesses and neighbors since the Bridge Pointe building opened and addressing any concerns directly with residents.

There are about a dozen similar developments throughout Cuyahoga and Lorain Counties. CHN said research shows chronic homelessness has decreased by 82% since its first facility opened in Cuyahoga County. Fewer than 5% of residents have returned to homelessness.

“This is a proven national model. Trust us; we know what we’re doing. We’ve done it in other places,” said Laura Boustani, the vice president of external affairs for CHN Housing Partners. “This building is the right thing to do for our neighbors. And it will only attract more development in Lorain.”

Boustani explained the location of the project is tied to a nearly $10 million affordable housing tax credit. It would forfeit the funds if it relocated.

Sweeney hopes Lorain will keep an open mind about the project, which he believes will do more good than harm to the community.

“You have homeless people sleeping on park benches,” he said. “If Lorain would see this place - you have 62 units, that means there are 62 people that’s not on the streets.”

The final project is estimated to cost close to $17 million. It requires several more layers of approval, including from the Lorain City Council, before moving forward.

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