Louisville, Kentucky: Family Scholar House Helps Residents Achieve Economic Independence through Academic Success
Family Scholar House (FSH) seeks to help two vulnerable populations in Louisville, Kentucky: single-parent families and young adults who have recently aged out of foster care. These populations face unique challenges in completing postsecondary education and achieving the economic empowerment that can come from higher education. Since its founding in 1995, FSH has learned that stable and affordable housing is critical for helping young adults achieve academic success and financial independence. After developing five supportive housing projects for single-parent families, FSH and The Marian Group opened The Riverport Family Scholar House in 2019, their first project to serve both young adults who are foster care alumni and single-parent families. The Riverport Family Scholar House is a 64-unit development with supportive services for its residents, as well as residents of the surrounding community. FSH received the 2019 American Planning Association/HUD Secretary’s Opportunity and Empowerment Award in recognition of this work.
The Riverport Family Scholar House
The Riverport Family Scholar House provides 32 two-bedroom units for single-parent families with at least one child and 32 one-bedroom units for foster care alumni under 25 years old who emancipated themselves from the foster care system when they turned 18. To qualify for units at the Riverport Family Scholar House, prospective residents must earn less than 60 percent of the area median income, have a high school diploma or General Education Development credential, and be enrolled or about to enroll at a postsecondary institution. Residents can be pursuing a four-year college degree, a two-year associate’s degree, or an apprenticeship or other type of technical training. After residents complete these programs, FSH helps them find permanent housing in the Louisville area. Consisting of a two-story and a three-story building, the Riverport Family Scholar House is part of a larger development, Riverport Landings, built by FSH and The Marian Group. In addition to the Riverport Family Scholar House, Riverport Landings includes 348 units of family and senior apartments and a 16,000-square-foot educational services building.
Support for Economic Success
FSH offers various support services and academic programs in the educational services building for residents of the Riverport Family Scholar House, the other Riverport Landings units, and the surrounding neighborhoods. A computer lab and an art studio are available for students to complete coursework or meet with tutors. In multipurpose rooms, FSH staff provide academic coaching for such tasks as finding scholarships and selecting the right classes to meet educational goals. Staff also help residents balance school with other obligations and learn time management skills.
Beyond these academic programs, FSH helps residents and community members achieve financial stability. FSH hosts classes on personal financial management and offers professional skills training, including mentoring sessions and seminars on résumé building and interview techniques. The education building also includes a “clothes closet” where clients can borrow professional attire for job interviews.
Riverport Family Scholar House residents and neighbors have access to two food pantries in the educational services building to provide emergency groceries, and FSH staff provide life skills classes in areas such as budgeting, healthy cooking, and parenting techniques. Outside service providers offer mental and physical health screenings, tax preparation, and other types of specialized support.
FSH also offers programs to serve children from Riverport Landings and surrounding neighborhoods. Tutors are available at the educational services building to help students with homework, and FSH hosts art therapy sessions. Children have safe spaces to play at the Children’s Imaginarium inside the education building and at the playground next to the building. FSH’s main childcare facility, located at the organization’s original residential building near the University of Louisville campus, is available to families in FSH housing while parents attend classes or work. FSH collaborates with the university’s College of Education and Human Development to provide residents with free or discounted childcare.
A Network of Support and Opportunity
In addition to these services, the Riverport Family Scholar House offers a multigenerational and peer-based support network for residents through a robust volunteering program. Cathe Dykstra, FSH’s chief executive officer, explains that graduates from FSH programs serve as academic tutors and mentors, sharing their experiences to help current residents succeed in school and transition to a career. Residents of the senior apartment building at Riverport Landings volunteer their time and skills in an intergenerational support network for young adults and families. Members of the surrounding community not only volunteer in FSH programs but are also encouraged to refer friends and family who meet the requirements for housing at FSH properties.
The volunteers, in turn, reap important benefits. Former residents network with one another and maintain their relationship with FSH, whose services remain available after participants leave the program. Seniors can socialize with their peers and neighbors, which builds a community and relieves social isolation. Members of the community learn more about FSH and are encouraged to take advantage of its services.
Financing for The Riverport Family Scholar House
The $14.2 million Riverport Family Scholar House was funded primarily through 4 percent low-income housing tax credits, tax-exempt bonds, and state and local HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) loans (table 1). The Kentucky Housing Corporation deferred the repayment of both its HOME program and trust fund loans until maturity. Funding also came from several other sources, including $1.3 million in philanthropic contributions raised by FSH, and the city donated the $400,000 site. Operational support for the housing is provided through 64 project-based vouchers.
Table 1: The Riverport Family Scholar House Financing
|Low-income housing tax credit equity||$6,080,000|
|Louisville/Jefferson County Metropolitan Government HOME funds||1,970,000|
|Louisville HOME funds||500,000|
|Kentucky Housing Corporation HOME funds||500,000|
|Kentucky Housing Corporation Affordable Housing Trust Fund||500,000|
Since 2009, FSH has housed 587 families. In July 2019, an additional 247 families and 32 foster care alumni lived at FSH’s 6 residential properties. Of the families who have moved out of FSH housing, 99 percent have found stable housing. Of the single parents who have exited FSH housing, 81 percent have found stable employment, and Family Scholar House participants have earned 502 college degrees. FSH also reports that most residents find full-time work in their chosen field before they graduate from college.
Jake Brown, the founder and principal of The Marian Group, who collaborated with FSH on all of its housing projects, believes that the FSH model of combining supportive housing with postsecondary education for single-parent families and foster care alumni can be successfully expanded. To this end, FSH has established an affiliate program that currently works with 15 communities nationwide. The program provides affiliate organizations with three years of technical assistance and training.
On October 16, 2019, HUD designated the educational services building, the Frank and Paula Harshaw Campus, at Riverport Landings an EnVision Center.
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