Ruth Ellis Center plans new housing for LGBT youth in Detroit
From Crains Detroit
February 28, 2019
Armed with $1.48 million in Michigan low-income housing tax credits and Chicago, Ill.-based Full Circle Communities Inc. as its development partner, Ruth Ellis Center Inc. aims to create 43 units of housing on top of health care, entrepreneurial and community space in Detroit’s Piety Hill neighborhood west of Woodward Avenue and north of New Center.
The project would take shape on a Clairmount Avenue property marketed by the city last year. Detroit is currently reviewing its site plan and exterior elevation, said Jerry Peterson, executive director of the Ruth Ellis Center. Construction would follow, pending approval, in fall or next spring.
Ruth Ellis currently has a nine-bed residential care facility, but this larger independent living community is new. It’s an expansion of services for the Highland Park organization that provides outreach, safety net-type services, health care services, case management, workshops and HIV prevention programs for young LGBT people and others who are at-risk, homeless or have run away. Around 80 percent of those Ruth Ellis serves identify as African-American and 16 percent with multiple ethnic identities; 25 percent identify as transgender women of color, according to Peterson.
It won’t just take tenants from its target audience, Peterson said, referencing fair housing laws. But it’ll be “obvious we are reaching out to LGBT people” and reflected in the “culture of the place,” he said. Those who sign leases will need to agree to guidelines on diversity and respect.
LGBT youth as a whole are 120 percent more likely to experience homelessness than non-LGBT, according to a 2017 study by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago cited by the nonprofit True Colors Fund. African-American or black youth are at an 83 percent higher risk, the study said. And True Colors Fund found in 2015 research that about 7 percent of youth identified as LGBT in the U.S. and 40 percent of young people experiencing homelessness are LGBT.
“They’re often kicked out and marginalized by their families and they don’t really fit anywhere,” Peterson said. “They’re probably one of the most challenged in terms of housing and employment of any group of people in Detroit.”
The Ruth Ellis Center chose to partner with nonprofit developer Full Circle Communities on the venture, which Peterson said is one of around 10 of its kind for LGBT young people in operation or planned across the country.
The model the team has selected to use in Piety Hill is called permanent supportive housing — cited by the National Alliance to End Homelessness as a “proven solution” — but it’s anything but permanent, according to Peterson. It pairs independent, apartment-style living and affordable rent with case management and support services.
It’s for young people 18-25 who have experienced trauma or rejection due to marginalization and may not be able to succeed in a traditional rehousing or transition program, Peterson said. Those are often limited to 12-18 months, while this permanent supportive housing will aim to support tenants for two to three years. They could stay longer if needed.
“We are working with them to find solutions so they can be part of mainstream economics and culture” and support themselves, Peterson said.
There’ll be two full-time case managers there creating individual housing and employment plans for residents. That’s in addition to first-floor services.
As currently planned, the building would have four commercial spaces on its more than 12,000-square-foot ground floor: a youth entrepreneurial center for food service and cosmetology trades; a health clinic with behavioral services through the Ruth Ellis Center and — pending talks — primary care through Henry Ford Health System; a town hall-style community space; and a new headquarters for the Ruth Ellis Institute, an educational consultant arm of the center.
Full Circle’s model made it ideal, Peterson said. It gives 75 percent of what it earns on a project back, meaning Ruth Ellis would get 75 percent of net income for social services there, according to Peterson and Kunda.
They’re co-developers and co-owners of the venture, Kunda said. Full Circle is the majority owner and is also contracting support services for the tenants to Ruth Ellis.
Ruth Ellis has also used a $35,000 Kresge Innovative Projects: Detroit grant to assist with community engagement surrounding the project.
Full Circle expects the $1.48 million in low-income housing tax credits through MSHDA to generate $13.5 million-$13.9 million for development through investors, mostly financial institutions, who are given federal tax reductions for 10 years to encourage them to put up equity in the project, Kunda said. Other likely funding sources are grants through the city of Detroit, a Federal Home Loan Bank Affordable Housing Program grant, traditional debt and/or deferred developer fee.