Bert Nash will get $427,000 of its county funding early to purchase land for supportive housing complex
photo by: Matt Resnick | Journal-World
To help Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center acquire the land for its new supportive housing complex — and keep it on track to open in 2025 — Douglas County will give the agency more than $400,000 of its funding for 2024 a few months early.
On Wednesday, county commissioners voted unanimously to release $427,000 of Bert Nash’s multimillion-dollar funding allocation for 2024 so it can close on the property it’s seeking to use for the complex. As the Journal-World previously reported, Bert Nash plans to build 24 units of supportive housing for people who struggle with both homelessness and behavioral health disorders by early to mid-2025, and it’s looking to buy two connected parcels of land in north-central Lawrence: 530 Rockledge Drive and 2222 West Sixth St.
The County Commission, in its 2024 budget process, had approved a $2 million request from Bert Nash specifically for the housing project, with most of that money to be set aside for construction costs. But Bert Nash CEO Patrick Schmitz told commissioners Wednesday that his agency was $427,000 short of what it needed to close on the $1.6 million land purchase, and he needed some help from the county right away.
Specifically, Schmitz said Bert Nash was hoping to close the deal by late September, and that if the money weren’t available, the deal might fall through and Bert Nash might even have to look for a new site. He said it was crucial to secure a centrally located site like this so residents at the complex could get to the amenities they needed.
“When we think about this site, it is well-located for access to food and other services like a bus line,” he said.
Commission Chair Patrick Kelly asked Schmitz whether Bert Nash had enough time to get the funding from other sources, but Schmitz indicated the agency would be hard-pressed to come up with that type of money in time. The commissioners also wanted to know whether Schmitz was asking them to release some of the money they’d already approved, or whether he was making an entirely new request for an extra $427,000 on top of the $2 million already allocated for the project.
“I’m not going to presume which direction you want to go with that,” Schmitz told them. “If you want to add $427,000 to the total, that is up to you; it’s your money.”
Ultimately, the commissioners didn’t choose to add any new money to Bert Nash’s allocation, because they were concerned that doing so would invite other nonprofits and partner agencies to make more requests outside of the normal budget process. But they were willing to immediately release $427,000 of the existing $2 million amount, and Schmitz said he would be moving rapidly to get the deal done.
“I think for us that the important thing at the moment is being able to secure the site sooner rather than later,” Schmitz told the Journal-World after the meeting.
Kelly also said during the meeting that he’d received some public feedback opposing the location of the supportive housing project. But he said that even though some people “see providing supportive services for those who are housed as a threat to their neighborhood,” the community needs supportive housing everywhere, “and it is not best practice to focus it all on one space.”
“There is probably someone with a mental health issue living next door to you right now, or at least on your block,” Kelly said. “And I think it’s important to recognize that we all have a role to play in our community.”
In other businesses, the commission:
• Unanimously approved a $2.135 million budget plan for Consolidated Fire District No. 1 after holding a public hearing. The rural fire district, which was created in 2021, covers most of the northern half of Douglas County, excluding Lawrence and Eudora. The budget is about $435,000 more than the current year’s budget, while its mill levy remains unchanged at 5.5 mills.
• Approved a special event permit for the Halloween-themed “Garrett’s Haunted Farm” attraction to operate at 1387 East 1650 Road from Sept. 27 through Oct. 31.
• Approved a one-year extension for a temporary permit that allows outdoor storage of vehicles at a property at 1036 East 1000 Road.