Housing Authority moving ahead with plans for apartments at site of proposed behavioral health campus

photo by: Treanor Architects graphic/Contributed Image

These plans for a behavioral health campus on West Second Street between Alabama and Maine streets show a 20,000-square-foot behavioral health crisis intervention center on the left, a transitional home in the center and 10 long-term housing units on the right.

Construction of an eight- to 10-unit apartment complex that was to be part of a behavioral health campus could start late this year or early in 2019, despite county voters’ recent rejection of Proposition 1, the executive director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority said.

The apartment complex was to be the long-term housing piece on a continuum of residential care options for those with behavioral health issues to be included in the $11 million behavioral health campus. Last month, county voters rejected Proposition 1 and the countywide half-cent sales tax it would have created to fund a jail expansion, the behavioral health campus and $5.1 million in additional behavioral health services.

Shannon Oury, executive director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, said the Housing Authority was moving ahead with plans to build the apartments in partnership with Douglas County and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.

What made the apartment complex different from the behavioral health crisis center and group home to be built in the proposed campus was that its construction wasn’t dependent on the half-cent sales tax that would have been authorized with the passage of Proposition 1. Instead, the Housing Authority always planned to pay for its construction with $2 million it had saved from efficiently managing past U.S. Housing and Urban Development grants.

Oury first presented the plan for the apartments in September 2017 to the Douglas County Commission. County approval and cooperation were essential because the Housing Authority doesn’t have any legal means to construct the complex. The plan, which the County Commission approved in October 2017, would have the county pay to construct the apartments and then be fully compensated by the Housing Authority. Oury said eight to 10 apartments would be built, depending on far the $2 million would go.

The arrangement would also have the county lease to the Housing Authority the land on which the apartments are to be built, Oury said. The Housing Authority would manage the units and pay for ongoing maintenance on the property, which is in the 1000 block of West Second Street directly north of the Bert Nash.

Douglas County Commission Chair Nancy Thellman said the apartment complex remained valuable as a stand-alone project.

“We know that is a very difficult population to house, so any units we construct will be very welcome and helpful,” she said. “The challenge will be funding the professional support for the tenants.”

The sales tax would have provided funding for the professional behavioral heath support made available to tenants in the apartment complex. Oury said she was exploring two funding options to provide those services in partnership with Bert Nash. One would make use of a HUD continuum of care grant and the other would allow tenants to apply Section 8 vouchers toward support services.

The Housing Authority does have to get HUD approval to use the $2 million saved from past grants on the project, Oury said. She said she would file the paperwork needed to use the money as soon as the lease agreement with the county was in place.

“I had some projects approved by HUD very quickly and others take some time,” she said. “I would like to think we could break ground late this year or in early 2019.”


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