HUD gives initial OK for apartment complex at planned behavioral health campus in Lawrence

photo by: Elvyn Jones

This site on West Second Street north of Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center is to be the future home of the behavioral health campus. Site preparation will include tearing down the old VFW post on the right and the former Lawrence school district operations and facilities yard at the corner of Second and Maine streets.

Shannon Oury, executive director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, had reason to celebrate even before county voters approved Proposition 1 on Tuesday.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had recently informed her that they had signed off on the housing authority’s conceptual plan to build an eight- to 10-unit complex on the future behavioral health campus in Lawrence, Oury said.

On Election Day, voters authorized a countywide quarter-cent sales tax to fund development of a crisis center on the behavioral health campus on West Second Street north of the Bert Nash Community Mental Health headquarters. The campus will be home to the crisis center and a transitional group home, as well as the apartments that the housing authority will own and manage.

Oury first approached the Douglas County Commission in 2017 about an arrangement to build the apartments. Her proposal was for the county to pay for construction of the complex and then be compensated with $1 million the housing authority had saved from the efficient management of past HUD grants. The arrangement, which the County Commission approved, does require the approval of HUD.

Oury said Wednesday that the housing authority was on track to break ground on the apartments in mid-2019 and open them next year. The apartments will be reserved for those with long-term mental illness or substance-abuse problems.

The HUD notification of approval is significant because it means federal officials have signed off on the housing authority’s agreement with Douglas County to lease the property on which the apartments will be built for the cost of the units’ construction, Oury said.

Oury said HUD also indicated federal officials would allow use of the $1 million to construct the apartments once HUD reviewed detailed plans for the apartments and their costs. That step will require the City of Lawrence to rezone the apartment site and approve a site plan, Oury said. The schedule is to go before the Lawrence zoning board in December and the Lawrence City Commission for site plan approval in January.

Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said the county was reviewing the site preparation schedule for the rest of the campus. Different funding sources would play a role in the site preparation timeline. The transitional group home also slated for a 2019 opening is to be built with a $500,000 City of Lawrence affordable housing grant and a $400,000 county allocation. The crisis center will be constructed from the proceeds of a 20-year bond to be paid off with revenue from the recently approved quarter-cent sales tax, he said.

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