ELKHART — Construction has officially begun on 11 new low-income housing units on Elkhart’s Benham Avenue.

The Lacasa Inc. development named Benham Avenue Apartments will offer permanent supportive housing for people affected by mental illness and struggling to get out of homelessness, said Chris Kingsley, president and CEO of Lacasa Inc.

Oaklawn, the mental health and addiction services provider, will provide case management and other supportive services for the apartments’ residents, according to Bonita Schrock, chief clinical officer at Oaklawn, which has its nearest location one mile from the construction in the 2700 block of Benham Avenue.

Specifically, Oaklawn will work to help residents stabilize their mental health and work with addictions, she said.

“Because sometimes, if you’re dealing with those kinds of issues, it is hard to stay in housing,” said Schrock.

The $1.5 million cost of the construction is paid through a grant from the Indiana Housing & Community Development Authority, according to Brad Hunsberger, Lacasa vice-president of real-estate development.

Monthly rent for the 550-square-foot one-bedroom apartments will be in the high $500s, as established through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Market Rents, said Hunsberger.

But the price tag does not need to be an obstacle for people with low or no income, as those who are referred to the complex might qualify for HUD’s Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, said Kingsley.

“If they didn’t have income and then transitioned into income, it would adjust at that point, and as income would go up over time, so would their rent payment,” he said.

In addition to the apartments, the complex will have a community room and laundry room.

Lacasa already runs 33 units of this type in Goshen and Elkhart, and this is the group’s third project of the type, said Hunsberger.

“It’s a much needed resource,” he said. “It’s a nice mission alignment between us and Oaklawn, to help the least among us and provide quality affordable housing.”

Oaklawn also has experience with this type of housing in St. Joseph County, said Schrock.

“So we’re now getting to a place where we feel like we have a good sense of how to move forward and do these things in a way that is helpful,” she said.

Specifically, she said, Oaklawn has experience with how to take people through the necessary steps to move from homelessness and addiction to live in their own apartment and move into the job market.

Real construction will begin this week and is expected to end in April of 2020. The first residents should be able to move in in May, according to Kingsley.

“We’re just excited about the level of partnership that extends beyond the formal partners, but also to the neighborhood that surrounds the development,” he said.

Kingsley said the location near Benham Avenue’s intersection with Hively Avenue and the many stores in that area mean that residents will be able to find most things that they need within walking distance.

Elkhart City Councilman Brent Curry, D-5, whose district will be the home of the apartments, said he was pleased with the new development to help the homeless.

“This is very important. Everybody have been having a lot of issues about homeless in Elkhart, homeless in the surrounding area. And this is permanent supportive housing – and the key word is permanent, where we’re really going to be able to help people and get them on their feet,” he said.

The city has put a large focus on new housing development in the River District, but decision makers have faced criticism for focusing too much on high-earners and not providing more affordable housing in the city.

“I think that issue has to be tackled,” Curry said. “We need to look at people’s income. Some people with income in the Elkhart area, they’re working every day but they still can’t afford that high-end housing, so we have to have housing that fits their income.”

For those who are homeless and in a negative spiral, something like the Benham Avenue Apartments is what is needed, he said, praising Lacasa and Oaklawn.

Mayor Tim Neese, R, said that creating more housing for people with low incomes needs to be a priority.

“The city of Elkhart is very diverse, and that means the individuals, the personalities, the backgrounds and the incomes are all very diverse, so we don’t want to just focus on one area, but we want to be very inclusive in terms of housing and services,” he said.

Neese said that helping some of the city’s homeless transition into supportive housing might also decrease the number of visits to the emergency room and improve relations with the Elkhart Police Department.

“Normally these individuals would not have housing available to them, and many times may then have difficulties with law enforcement related issues,” he said.

The mayor said the city is attempting to create more affordable housing, including opportunities to bring people out of homelessness, but that there are no definitive plans at this time.

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter @ReadRasmus

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