Not-for-profit kicks off effort to build affordable housing in Twin Aire area

Erica Irish • eirish@ibj.com

 

Officials for Southeast Neighborhood Development, or SEND, have announced they will invest $1.5 million to kick off efforts to build 150 affordable homes and apartment units in and around the Twin Aire neighborhood.

Paul Smith, president of SEND, said the investment could help yield a mix of single-family developments within the greater Twin Aire area as well as multi-family complexes along the IndyGo Red Line route on Shelby Street.

Because $1.5 million won’t go far for 150 units, Smith said his team plans to apply for additional funding from other sources to subsidize the costs. It’s too early in the process, however, to determine where that money might come from, he said.

“Other sponsors had told us, ‘If we’re going to lend money, we want to give it to an organization that has money,'” Smith told IBJ. “Now that SEND has a seven-figure balance, … I think we’ll get a better response. … We’re just going out to get more funds now, so we could get more plans in late 2018.”

Twin Aire has been in the spotlight for the last couple of years. Its central business district was chosen as one of five focal points for the Great Places 2020 initiative for urban redevelopment headed by the Local Initiatives Support Corp. of Indianapolis. The area also has been chosen as the site of the city’s $571 million criminal justice center.

The neighborhood’s borders are broadly defined as Sherman Drive to the east, State Avenue on the west, Washington Street to the north and Prospect Street to the south.

SEND’s investment is possible due to the not-for-profit group’s sale of the Wheeler Arts Community building in Fountain Square to Core Redevelopment LLC — a decision that, for some, marked a lack of concern for the neighborhood’s dwindling affordable housing options.

Since the early 2000s, the building at 1035 Sanders St. has provided 36 affordable housing units for the Fountain Square area. SEND, which owned and operated the building, recently said it could no longer afford maintenance and upkeep.

The 55,000-square-foot Wheeler building required significant repairs to its roof and exterior walls to stabilize the structure and ensure the safety of its residents over the long term, SEND said.

It sold the majority of the building to Core Redevelopment, but the organization retained 20 percent ownership. SEND netted $2.56 million from the deal, Smith said.

The resulting partnership, Wheeler Renaissance LLC, plans to convert the structure from affordable to market-rate housing.

However, current tenants will be eligible for five additional years of affordable housing, as well as priority leasing should they decide to move into the new affordable projects in Twin Aire.

SEND also plans to relocate its offices from the Wheeler building, most likely to the Twin Aire neighborhood.

Overall, the proposed single-family dwellings in Twin Aire will be largely outnumbered by multi-family developments, Smith said, as the need for quality, affordable apartments is greater in the area.

Single-family homes, if built, would resemble those already present in the area. Each would offer between 900 to 1,100 square feet and stand as single-story structures.

“We want to come in with a product that’s very similar,” Smith said. “We don’t want to try and stand out, and the modest sizes will help us pay for the construction.”

Multiple petitions against Wheeler building’s sale surfaced in late June on social media. Each obtained 1,500 signatures demanding that SEND and Core work to maintain affordable housing in the area.

“The change in use will negatively affect the neighborhood’s property values by causing further gentrification, because there will be decreased affordability and, as a result, decreased diversity across the median income households and diversified community,” local resident Gary Reiter told the Metropolitan Development Commission on June 6 during a hearing to adjust the zoning for the Wheeler building to accommodate more apartments.

But Smith said his organization was never contacted directly.

“I love America. It’s important that people have a voice,” he said. “But none of them [the petitioners] ever came to talk to us … Maybe that was our fault, maybe we should have been more direct with them. But we were never contacted.”•

 

Originally published in Indianapolis Business Journal.