Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A special place 

Here in Seattle, construction is just underway on a 19-unit apartment building designed to provide affordable transitional housing for deaf and deaf-blind victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services (ADWAS) broke ground yesterday on A Place of Our Own, the first project of its kind in the country.

There's a fine article about the project on Businesswire.com. Here are a few excerpts:

"A Place of Our Own" will provide Deaf and Deaf-Blind victims access to those who understand them and know how to help. Deaf women suffer the same rate of abuse as hearing women, but without fully accessible housing alternatives, Deaf and Deaf-Blind victims of abuse must often decide between homelessness and living at home with their abuser. For the first time, "A Place of Our Own" offers a new alternative that helps these women, children and families begin lives free of violence.

Units are scheduled to be available for move-in by spring 2006. The apartments will be open to abused women and their children who earn at or below 30-60 percent of area median income. They will pay no more than 30 percent of their income toward rent.

Architects, landscape architects and interior designers from Mithun collaborated to create "A Place of Our Own." The facility was specially designed to meet the access needs of Deaf and Deaf-Blind residents, staff and volunteers incorporating many special features including: TTY systems; light systems to indicate ringing doorbells and telephones, and fire alarms; appliances embossed with Braille; a specially designed security system; and contrasting paint colors and textures needed for signed communication. The property incorporates sustainable building practices that will help ADWAS save money on energy costs including maximizing the use of natural daylight and using ultra-efficient insulation. The building also includes a multi-purpose room, children and youth rooms, a common laundry facility, computer room, library, a community kitchen for the residents, classroom, a quiet garden, and a secure outdoor children's area. The facility is located on a major transit line, an essential element for its Deaf-Blind residents.

On-site resident services provided by ADWAS will include a 24/7 crisis line; crisis intervention; therapy; legal, medical and systems advocacy; children's program; a positive parenting program; and job search and independent living skills training. ADWAS staff advocates will assist residents in securing any additional services needed, such as food banks and healthcare services and more. Non-residents needing ADWAS' services will also be able to obtain them at "A Place of Our Own."

"A Place of Our Own" is the result of a unique private/public financing arrangement. Approximately $1.6 million of the $7.7 million project is funded through an equity investment from Homestead. The project also is funded by the City of Seattle Office of Housing, Washington State Community Trade and Economic Development Department, the Washington Housing Finance Commission, five King County suburban cities, and the Federal Home Loan Bank Affordable Housing Program sponsored by Sterling Savings Bank.

ADWAS' capital campaign is providing approximately $3.4 million of private funding, including support from: the Sound Families Initiative, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, The Ford Foundation and many others. Two challenge grants, $400,000 (the total award is $500,000) from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and $250,000 from The Kresge Foundation, now challenge the community to pledge the remaining $504,000 required to complete the campaign. Key Bank is the construction lender.

If you read that list of funders carefully, you'll see that the project is being built with money from a variety of sources: equity financing from the federal tax-credit program (managed by a non-profit housing investment company), funds provided by city, state and national governmental organizations and programs, grants from several private foundations, and donations from individuals. This is not unusual; this is how a large part of the affordable housing being built today (at least in this part of the country) is financed. It's a complicated process, but one that's working well to provide safe, well-built housing for many people who have gone without for too long.

This is a very special project, one that I'd love to have had a hand in designing. I'll have to satisfy my desire to be a part of making this place a reality by helping with their ongoing capital campaign.