Case Study

The Commons at South Cumminsville

6 min read

It Takes More Than One Village 

Affordable housing is well-known for needing multiple funders to make developments viable. But according to Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, effective collaboration extends beyond funding to operations as well. That’s what has earned National Church Residences’ Commons at South Cumminsville one of only six HUD Public-Philanthropic Partnership Awards for 2021.

The HUD citation for the award spells out eight separate funding and operations partners for National Church Residences on this supportive housing development for people with disabilities or who have experienced homelessness in Cincinnati: Strategies to End Homelessness; Working in Neighborhoods; Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority; Ohio Housing Finance Agency; Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati; Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services; Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services; The Home Depot Foundation; the City of Cincinnati; and KeyBank Real Estate Capital.

The Commons at South Cumminsville joins seven other similar Ohio communities, all called The Commons, owned by National Church Residences, according to Colleen M. Bain, vice president of supportive housing at the company. Six are in Columbus, where the organization is based and one is in Toledo. National Church Residences also provides services to residents at six other communities in Ohio.

“We kind of do it all,” Bain says. “We own, we manage and we contract as supportive service provider.” And the portfolio is growing quickly. National Church Residences has a new supportive housing project for seniors under development in Columbus, and the day she spoke to Tax Credit Advisor, Bain spoke to a partner that has named them the property management agent at a new property in development in Toledo.

The 80 one-bedroom units at The Commons at South Cumminsville, all at 60 percent of area median income or less and built for the disabled, join 655 other supportive housing units at the other seven supportive housing communities owned by National Church Residences. The building is four stories tall and is located on a bus line.

“We can expand our reach and impact by partnering with other owners and providers,” Bain says. “As an organization, we are much more focused on partnerships,” she says, especially as Low Income Housing Tax Credit equity isn’t sufficient in and of itself and it can take years to take a project from concept to reality. National Church Residences has used the nine percent credit in many deals, including this one, which cost a total of $11.8 million.

The partnerships can be for both new and existing developments; The Commons at South Cumminsville is a new construction. Since National Church Residences is focused on the senior market, any new permanent supportive housing projects will tend to be for seniors.

At the Commons at South Cumminsville, ten units are set aside for veterans, due to support from the Home Depot Foundation, which emphasizes housing for veterans. Two other projects, one in Toledo and one in Columbus, are 100 percent set aside for veterans, she says.

Ending Veteran Homelessness
In Toledo, an effort to end homelessness for all veterans has come very close to success, Bain says. “We were able to put a big dent in the number of homeless veterans in Toledo” with its project there.

Before she came to National Church Residences, Bain “ran homeless shelters. So, I get a lot of satisfaction out of longer-term solutions. What I’m most proud of in our portfolio is how we’ve grown our service models. We have developed a really robust array of services that include recovery, peer support, as well as nurse practitioners on site in all our buildings that offer primary care, and also employment services.”

On-site supportive services offered at Commons at South Cumminsville (provided by Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services) include social workers, vocational and educational instruction, as well as social activities, according to National Church Residences. Among the amenities are a laundry room, classroom, fitness center, medical home suite, meeting room and a resource center with computer and internet access.

“Shelter is a necessary safety net, but it feels really good to supply keys to an apartment and a permanent solution. What I really love about our portfolio is we focus on the mental, emotional, physical and financial health of the people we serve,” says Bain.

“We want to not only keep them housed, but we also want to address the big picture.”

Bain says National Church Residences tries to offer what she calls, “Irresistible services,” like social and recreational activities, bus passes and laundry. “By doing that we’re able to form a relational foundation.”

A lot of people “have never had an apartment, or they’ve lived at a shelter or a homeless camp, so their housekeeping may not be what we would expect.”

“When we add our peer support services, they are able to really help our residents by showing them how to clean their apartment, and making sure they have trash bags and cleaning products.”

The end result is quite satisfying for staff. Bain saw 20 tenants move into the Commons at South Cumminsville on the same day. “To see the looks of relief on their faces, their looks of gratitude, makes it all worthwhile,” she says. “It makes all of our hard work worth it.”

Valuable Role for Peers
Peers are even willing to ride the buses with new residents, show them the bus routes and the neighborhood. New residents often relate to peers better than they would to social workers or “someone with letters after their name,” Bain says.

The units at the Commons at South Cumminsville have a 24-hour staffed front entrance, interior and exterior security cameras, extensive outdoor lighting, an on-site computer resource center, handicapped accessible units and on-site laundry facilities, the group says. Each apartment includes a bed, dresser, full-sized refrigerator, chairs and table, kitchen with oven and stove, bathroom, closet and built-in bookshelves.

Supportive services include collaborative team meetings, case management, life skills training, education enrichment, health care education, crisis intervention, employment services, recovery support, financial management assistance, work readiness training, joint property management and services apartment inspections and housing retention/eviction prevention planning.

The apartments at South Cumminsville were leased up in 60 days, says Bain, and all have rental assistance vouchers. Residents may be eligible to port their voucher after 12 months of stable tenancy. Annual incomes are restricted to $30,250 and below.

The Commons at South Cumminsville joins National Church Residences’ other supportive housing projects in Ohio: The Commons at Grant, Columbus; The Commons at Buckingham, Columbus; The Commons at Chantry, Columbus; The Commons at Livingston (I & II), Columbus; The Commons at Third, Columbus; and The Commons at Garden Lake, Toledo.

Mark Fogarty has covered housing and mortgages for more than 30 years. A former editor at National Mortgage News, he has written extensively about tax credits.