Apartment Building Renovated for Disabled Homeless in Wheeling, West Virginia
The Greater Wheeling Homeless Coalition renovated the 100-year-old Gertrude Flats building to serve as the home for clients of the Permanent Housing for Homeless People with Disabilities program. Image courtesy of Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless. For more than 25 years, the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit serving homeless individuals in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle, has been evolving to meet the needs of its clients, who numbered nearly 800 in 2010. In 2006, when half of its clients had disabilities and almost half of those disabled individuals did not have access to subsidized permanent housing, the coalition decided to assist the chronically disabled homeless with an alternative housing program. The coalition leased housing for three years before deciding to open its own residential building to better serve homeless people with disabilities. In 2012, the coalition opened Gertrude Flats, which offers 18 beds for chronically homeless individuals with extremely low incomes. For its outstanding use of HOME funding to address affordable housing needs in the city of Wheeling, the coalition received the 2014 Audrey Nelson Community Development Achievement Award from the National Community Development Association.
Benefits of Coalition Ownership
In February 2006, after a 2-month search, the coalition located a building in downtown Wheeling whose owner was willing to rent units to clients in the coalition’s Permanent Housing for Homeless People with Disabilities program. However, this residence lacked onsite management, failed to comply with city codes, and was plagued by crime. Lisa Badia, executive director of the coalition, recalls, “Clients who wanted to maintain sobriety had difficulty, and many were, frankly, quite scared of the criminal element living in and visiting the units not leased by the coalition.”
Purchasing and renovating Gertrude Flats allowed the coalition to control these environmental conditions. In addition, ownership of the building has allowed the coalition to maintain and reinforce its role as a service provider for clients, rather than a landlord for tenants. Whereas a missed rental payment by a tenant of a typical leased unit might ordinarily result in the threat of eviction, at Gertrude Flats, it leads to support services for residents to help them maintain stable housing — a discussion with a case manager, a revised personal budget, and a corrective plan of action. Knowing that the building belongs to the coalition, residents have also developed a sense of ownership; Badia reports that people in the program “realize that what they leave behind is what the next person who is in their same situation will inherit. They want that person to have access to the same level of quality care and housing as they had.”
For the coalition, the decision to move from leasing to ownership could not have come at a better time. In 2006, the coalition paid $4,247 monthly for 16 beds in 8 leased units. Since then, however, those rates have doubled because of the region’s natural gas boom and the housing crisis. Had the coalition not moved to an ownership model, says Badia, its Permanent Housing for Homeless People with Disabilities program probably would not have survived.
Gertrude Flats provides a housing alternative for persons with disabilities or other chronic conditions who need more support than transitional housing and rapid re-housing can provide. Building residents earn less than $16,860 a year, or less than 30 percent of the Wheeling area median income. The 3-story building, constructed more than 100 years ago, has been renovated to provide two units on each floor. Each unit is furnished and contains three bedrooms and a common living room, dining room, kitchen, and bathroom. Exterior renovations included cleaned and repointed masonry and new windows. Inside the building, new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems were added, and the plumbing and lighting were replaced. To accommodate residents with physical disabilities, the coalition constructed an entrance ramp to the building, provided a chairlift from the foyer to access the two units on the first floor, and remodeled the kitchens and bathrooms to meet accessibility requirements.
Each of Gertrude Flats’ units comes fully furnished. Image courtesy of Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless. Onsite supportive services for residents and other homeless persons are provided through Gertrude Flats. Clients learn about tenant/landlord issues and how to monitor their income and expenses. One-on-one employment support includes preparing résumés and job search strategies, practicing interview techniques through role-playing, and counseling on workplace expectations. The coalition’s Intensive Care Coordination program, which is especially important for those with severe mental health or substance abuse concerns, allows staff to accompany clients to medical appointments and provide a high level of direct assistance. This particular form of care helps ensure that more than 96 percent of the coalition’s clients remain independent and out of institutionalized psychiatric care.
The total purchase and rehabilitation costs were $865,000. The Northern Panhandle HOME Consortium contributed $259,000 of Community Housing Development Organization funds. Funds from the West Virginia Affordable Housing Trust Fund and Housing Development Fund totaled $275,000. The Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh contributed $209,319, and other housing funds and donations completed the funding package.
Recognizing Success and Work to be Done
Gertrude Flats continues to help the coalition reach its high goals. The coalition’s work has ensured that at least 87 percent of residents remain in Gertrude Flats or other permanent housing, 75 percent of persons aged 18 and older maintain or increase their total annual income, and 92 percent of residents attend monthly meetings to advise the coalition. The coalition has achieved these numbers by creating a positive, focused, and safe living environment — one in which housing stability and the success of mental health treatment is mutually supportive. With their basic needs of safety and security ensured, residents have the ability to focus on improving their psychological and physical health.
Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless. n.d. “The Local Need.” Accessed 25 August 2014; Interview with Lisa Badia, executive director of the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless, 12 August 2014.×
“Gertrude Flats Apartments 2014 Audrey Nelson Community Development Achievement Award,” presentation at “Audrey Nelson Achievement Awards,” National Community Development Association, Washington, DC, 24 January 2014; Interview with Lisa Badia, executive director of the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless, 12 August 2014.×
Email correspondence with Lisa Badia, executive director of the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless, 22 August 2014; National Community Development Association. n.d. “NCDA National Events.” Accessed 21 August 2014.×
Interview with Lisa Badia, 12 August 2014; Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless. n.d. “Coalition Awarded FHLB Project.” Accessed 21 August 2014; Email correspondence with Lisa Badia, 22 August 2014.×
Email correspondence with Lisa Badia, 22 August 2014.×