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WHEDA grant helps renovate Superior apartments

A grant from Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority will help get the ball rolling on housing intended to help people move from homelessness to permanent housing in Superior.

The Wisconsin agency announced last week that Harbor House Crisis Shelters was awarded $25,000 through the WHEDA foundation's annual Housing Grant Program to renovate five apartments that will be used for permanent supportive housing in Superior.

"We don't have any of that in Superior," said the Rev. Barb Certa-Werner of Harbor House. "It's kind of like transitional living, where a person gets case management and services, but it's determined by the person how long they want to live there. So if they want to stay there permanently, they could."

Statistically, she said, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says people stay about three years in permanent supportive housing, Certa-Werner said.

The project is designed to help those with chronic barriers that lead to homelessness, such as a prior eviction or significant barriers to work that prevent people from finding adequate housing.

"If they've been evicted, you know there is an eviction cost that they need to pay off," she said. "Until they pay that off, they really can't get into other housing. We're really trying to change that around for the homeless so that those barriers are eliminated ... at least eliminate some of the big barriers so they can be successful."

Rent for the apartments will cover the cost of insurance and utilities on the building, she said, so people can pay off their debts.

"Our goal is to get them in there, work with them, and when they falter or things aren't exactly going the way they thought they would, that we're kind of a safety net that can help pick that up ... to help them build some resiliency so they can be successful," Certa-Werner said.

But to get there, Certa-Werner said the building needs to be rehabilitated before people can move in. That means construction and raising money.

"The project is bigger than I originally thought it would be," Certa-Werner said. She said work is currently underway to bring the building up to code, and then work will move inside to rehabilitate the apartments inside.

Fixtures such as toilets and sinks have been removed from the apartment building, which stood vacant before Harbor House Crisis Shelter purchased it, she said. Electrical work, heating upgrades and hardwiring smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and replacing mixing fixtures is just some of the work that will have to be done before the first tenants can move in the building.

She said work has already begun to make repairs necessary to get the building up to code. When that is done, she said they are going to start working on the inside, redoing the floors and electrical, and reinstalling fixtures that have been removed.

"I'm hoping to get it done in the next nine months or so," Certa-Werner said. "I've got to raise the rest of the money. That's why I wrote the WHEDA grant. I knew that would be a chunk of money that I could get to really start getting some of the projects done."

However, she said, if someone is willing to lend their expertise and talents to the project, that would help reduce the amount of money Harbor House Crisis Shelters needs to raise.

"The goal is to get this project done without debt," Certa-Werner said. "I know that sounds crazy but the reason being because if we go into this project with debt it is going to be more difficult to do the services that we want to do because we have to continuously raise money to pay for the debt."

She said Harbor House experienced that when a shelter was purchased and carried a mortgage. She said it took a generous donor paying off the mortgage to free up resources so staff could focus on case management and teaching life skills designed to help people avoid homelessness in the future.

Certa-Werner said the goal is to finish the project in the next nine months or so.

"It's a big venture for us," Certa-Werner said.

Donations for the project are being accepted at Faith United Methodist Church, 1531 Hughitt Ave. Call 715-394-9608 or visit harborhousecs.org.

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