Two local nonprofit organizations find ‘silver lining’ after city ends up purchasing home in lawsuit settlement

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

The home at 812 Ohio St. is pictured on July 8, 2020. The City of Lawrence agreed to purchase the property as part of the settlement of a lawsuit.

When the City of Lawrence ended up the owner of a house in Old West Lawrence, it was not immediately clear what it would do with the property. But two local nonprofits have come forward with a use for the home that will benefit some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Tenants to Homeowners and the Willow Domestic Violence Center have partnered to create a new program that will use the house, at 812 Ohio St., as the residence of youth who are aging out of the state foster care system. TTH Executive Director Rebecca Buford said the partnership between the city, TTH and Willow meets a need that is hard to address otherwise.

“That’s really the kind of housing that we need to house those who are sometimes the hardest to house,” Buford said. “You need to give them a home, but you can’t end it there.”

As part of the program, TTH will maintain and manage the property, while the Willow will provide case management for the residents. Willow Executive Director Megan Stuke said that children aging out of foster care were at higher risk of being victimized by human trafficking or domestic violence, and because of that the center already has someone who works with foster children at the group homes in Lawrence.

The small ranch-style home has three bedrooms and will house three youths. Both Buford and Stuke said the two organizations would work together to identify children aging out of foster care who are a good fit for the program. That could include youths who are enrolled in college or technical training programs or youths who are working and trying to establish themselves. Stuke said the hope was that the program would help the residents learn life skills and prepare a foundation for themselves.

“When we say case management, we mean they set goals for themselves, and we help them navigate a path for those goals,” Stuke said.

Once the new program gets started, Stuke said that the staff member working with foster care children would primarily work out of the house at 812 Ohio St. She said that in addition to case management, the staff member would arrange other programming for the residents on topics such as wellness or financial management.

“So we will have a whole team of staff that will be coming in and out and doing different programs with them,” Stuke said.

Buford said TTH’s responsibilities would include property maintenance, snow and leaf removal and mowing the lawn. The city will charge only $1 per year to lease the property, which Buford said would enable the partnership to charge minimal rent to cover personnel and other costs.

“I’m really grateful to the city for making this opportunity out of a tough situation, for finding a silver lining in there and thinking creatively,” Buford said.

The house was found to have a century-old city stormwater tunnel underneath it, and the city agreed to purchase the house as part of a settlement agreement in a lawsuit brought by a couple who had bought the house, as the Journal-World previously reported. Following the settlement, the city issued a request for interest for the property in October, and sent the request to various local nonprofit agencies, according to a city staff memo. The proposal from TTH and the Willow was the only response received, and the City Commission approved the proposal as part of its meeting Dec. 15.

The lease for the property will allow for the city to end the lease in the event that a stormwater project planned for the area impacts residency of the structure, according to the memo. Other lease requirements are that occupancy will be limited to no more than three unrelated individuals, the Willow will provide case management services to residents and TTH will provide on-site management of the property on a 24/7 basis and be responsible for all utilities, routine maintenance and snow and ice removal.

Stuke said preparations for the program were just getting underway following the City Commission approval last week, and it’s expected the program will be ready to begin early next year.

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