By 2025, Bert Nash plans to build 24-unit supportive housing complex for people with serious mental illnesses
photo by: Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center
By early to mid-2025, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center hopes to have a new 24-unit supportive housing complex to help people who struggle with both homelessness and behavioral health disorders.
That’s according to Bert Nash CEO Patrick Schmitz, who spoke with the Journal-World this past week about his agency’s plans for the $12 million to $13.65 million housing project. He said it’s imperative that his agency get more involved in housing issues, because there’s a significant overlap with Bert Nash’s mission of mental health care.
“We see our space in terms of helping those who have a housing need and, in particular, those who have a housing need along with a behavioral health condition,” Schmitz told the Journal-World. He said many people with behavioral health conditions struggle with obtaining secure housing, as well, and “therefore, we need to create opportunities to be able to help them. It’s something we’re really passionate about.”
What Bert Nash is planning to build is a combination of an apartment complex and an office that would host staff members like case managers and outreach coordinators. Preliminary plans call for the complex to be built near the intersection of Sixth Street and Rockledge Road. The office space would be on the bottom floor of the 43,000-square-foot facility, with the two dozen single-room units sitting on top of it.
Those apartments will serve individuals with low or no income who are also experiencing serious mental illness and who qualify for voucher-based housing subsidies.
As for the staff on the bottom floor, Schmitz said they wouldn’t all necessarily be on site all the time — rather, they’d be “people who would spend their days somewhere out in the community, but would also be available for any of the tenants within the facility.”
The preliminary plans also call for a courtyard and a parking area, as well as some room to grow. An open space on the site could one day house an additional building that would contain 12 more units of supportive housing just off of Sixth Street.
If the timeline for the 24-unit building goes according to Bert Nash’s plans, residents could begin moving in in early 2025.
To get the project off the ground, however, it will take millions in financial support from donors, the state of Kansas and local governments.
Schmitz said that the top priority right now is acquiring the land. Bert Nash is working to purchase two connected parcels of land in north-central Lawrence: 530 Rockledge Drive and 2222 West Sixth Street. The estimated cost of the land is between $1.2 million and $1.6 million, Schmitz said, and the agency has $500,000 that’s been tentatively approved by Douglas County to help with the purchase.
photo by: Matt Resnick | Journal World
If the deal is closed within the next month, Schmitz said the objective is to have bidding for the construction work completed in the fall and to break ground by the end of the year.
However, Schmitz said that the project’s total cost could easily surpass the initial $12 million to $13.65 million estimate if the timeline is delayed — and much of the funding is still up in the air.
Counting the $500,000 in county funding for the land purchase, Bert Nash has received a tentative funding commitment of $2 million from Douglas County as part of the county’s 2024 budget proposal. Bert Nash was also awarded $900,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds through the city of Lawrence and $108,000 from the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Schmitz said that the county’s behavioral health sales tax will be a key piece of the puzzle, helping to “ensure the project continues to progress toward completion.”
But during the county’s budget hearings earlier this summer, county commissioners heard about a big question mark in the plan — a request for $8 million in funding that Bert Nash submitted to the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. So far, the state agency has only promised about $200,000 for the project.
While Bert Nash is prepared to apply with various other state agencies for funding, Schmitz said private donors that have worked with them in the past will likely play an important role in making the project a reality. He said fundraising efforts from donors will not begin until after the site has been secured.
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Although the County Commission is on track to approve the money for the housing project, Schmitz said another of Bert Nash’s funding requests from the county wasn’t so lucky: a $136,000 request for the WRAP program, which places social workers in schools throughout Douglas County.
During the county’s budget hearings in July, Commission Chair Patrick Kelly noted that the city of Lawrence and the Lawrence school district had already cut back on funding for the program, and the commissioners said many of their funding decisions hinged on whether the county should be responsible for closing funding gaps left by other governments.
When the earlier budget cuts to WRAP happened, “Bert Nash and USD 497 said ‘we can make it work,'” Kelly said during the budget hearings. “I struggle with other governmental agencies saying ‘I’m not going to fund this anymore, let’s have the county do it.'”
The WRAP program — which stands for Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities — is expected to continue in the next school year, and Schmitz said this past week that Bert Nash would be working to find the necessary funding. While the county funding would have “helped out with some of the increasing costs” of the program, he said the request was only a small portion of the overall funding picture.
“We have some other things we’ll be working through to figure that out,” Schmitz said. “What we’ve done in the past is we’ve found a way to figure it out.”
photo by: Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center