Tacoma Housing Authority is turning its resources, and innovations, back to Hilltop.
Two years after it did not get U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Hope VI financing to tear down whats left of the decrepit Hillside Terrace apartments, it has gathered a mix of public and private money to start the job between 25th and 27th streets, Yakima Avenue and G Street.
A year into an innovative partnership with the Tacoma School District to reduce student turnover at McCarver Elementary, it is showing progress that last week drew a visit from Maurice Jones, deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Region X HUD director Mary McBride.
When the secretary asked to see a place of best practices and innovative ideas, where they are not shy about talking about challenges, it was, hands down, Tacoma, McBride said.
Tacomas housing authority has made a reputation as an innovative, money-saving housing authority, heavy on accountability, expert at guiding residents toward independence, she said.
That has earned it standing as one of about 30 Moving to Work housing authorities out of some 3,400 in the nation. Its a special standing THA shares with sister agencies in Seattle, Portland, King County and Vancouver. Though it does not bring in more money, it does make the money it gets more flexible, with HUD approval.
Instead of doing annual reviews of seniors on fixed incomes, for example, the housing authority can do the expensive and intrusive paperwork every three years. It can streamline its schedule of annual inspections of private property rented with Section 8 vouchers.
Both free up money for better uses, like the McCarver project, designed not just to house families, but to teach and urge them to support themselves.
At McCarver, student turnover was 110 percent because families became homeless. The new program offers parents a rental voucher that allows them to stay housed as long as their children go to McCarver, and as long as they are active participants in their childs school life. They get the kids to school on time, take parenting classes, see counselors and work on their own education and job skills.
According to an evaluation by Geo Education & Research, This year there have been fewer suspensions, children are coming to school more, parent engagement has increased significantly, and children are starting to show academic and behavioral progress, the report read.
If the track continues, kids will be getting the grades and skills they need to succeed, and parents will find jobs, busting the cycle of failure.
Thats the idea behind the new Hillside Terrace development, too.
Built in the late 1960s as a private venture, the apartments were poorly designed, with rooms on narrow multiple levels. The materials, from siding to asbestos, have failed. Theres one big clump of them from 25th and 27th streets and a smaller one on the 1800 block between South Yakima and G streets.
Keeping them habitable is like repairing a Yugo expensive and fruitless. Late in 2009, THA applied for a Hope VI grant to tear them down and build efficient, lasting and dense housing. It incorporated preschool education for the kids and job training for the adults into the resources.
It did not get that grant for housing, but it did get financing for the resources center. It has built a job-training partnership with Goodwill, just across 27th Street. Now the housing authority has pulled together the financing to start on the apartments.
It will relocate all the residents by Halloween. Families with kids will move first, so they wont have to switch schools after classes start.
It will have the whole mess torn down by Christmas, and construction will start with the new year. The first phase should be done in a year and should cost about $21.6 million, said Michael Mirra, executive director of the Housing Authority.
The cost for all three phases, including the 1800 block, is probably about $45 million, he said of the mix of tax credits, grants, and housing trust fund money.
When its done, the project will have about 200 apartments, up from 104, and it will have more usable open space.
Its a hefty investment. If it works as planned, and families learn and earn independence and leave in a few years, it will be worth it.