Fort Wayne, Indiana: Posterity Scholar House Provides Affordable Housing and Transportation to Single-Parent Student Households
Posterity Scholar House, a 44-unit affordable apartment development for single parents and their children, opened in southeast Fort Wayne, Indiana, in January 2019. The $12.6 million project was developed by the Indianapolis-based firm Black and White Investments (BWI) and was one of the first two projects selected to participate in the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority’s (IHCDA’s) Moving Forward program. Through this program, IHCDA and the energy nonprofit Energy Systems Network (ESN) provide access to technical design experts and funding assistance to accomplish Moving Forward’s goal of reducing utility and transportation costs for low-income households. To further these ambitions, BWI built Posterity Scholar House as a net zero energy development designed to reduce its residents’ reliance on private automobiles. In 2020, Posterity Scholar House won a National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials Award of Excellence for Affordable Housing.
Posterity Scholar House
Posterity Scholar House consists of two 22-unit buildings on a 28-acre parcel on Joshua Lane. The two-story buildings contain 28 two-bedroom and 16 three-bedroom units, each with a balcony or patio. Five units are accessible to tenants with disabilities. Eligible tenants are in single-parent households in which the parent is enrolled full time in a degree or certificate program in Fort Wayne post-secondary schools. Parents must maintain a 2.0 grade point average. After graduation, residents can retain their apartments if they do not exceed income limits. Half the units are reserved for tenants who earn no more than 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), and the other half are available to tenants earning no more than 30 percent of AMI. The Fort Wayne Housing Authority (FWHA) provides project-based vouchers for all units at Posterity Scholar House.
Each building has a communal lounge with sofas and a television where residents can socialize informally. An additional space in each building, approximately the size of an apartment unit, is set aside for meetings and the provision of services. FWHA provides life-coaching workshops and empowerment training, and the nonprofit Joshua’s Hand offers classes on topics such as parenting, pursuing higher education, financial competency, and homeownership.
Advancing Affordability With Moving Forward
The first round of IHCDA’s Moving Forward program began in August 2015 with the goal of applying innovation and design to reduce utility and transportation expenses in affordable housing developments. To determine how BWI might accomplish this goal, ESN hosted a 2-day Innovation Workshop that brought together the development team and dozens of subject-matter experts in energy efficiency, finance, transportation, and related fields. Crucially, BWI was asked to bring no predetermined plans for what to build or even where to build it. Instead, the group discussed goals, limits, ideal sites, and “stretch” goals.
BWI envisioned a development that generated at least as much electricity as it consumed through both a highly efficient building envelope, which would minimize the energy needed for heating and cooling, and photovoltaic panels mounted on the roof to provide free electricity. The discussion of transportation options led BWI to decide to implement a carshare program. “The whole workshop had a strong systems engineering thinking process. How do you optimize all these variables and then make it repeatable?” recounts Gary Hobbs, founder and chief executive officer of BWI. “It’s kind of the engineering dream.” After the workshop, Jacob Sipe, the executive director of IHCDA, and the BWI development team traveled Indiana to locate appropriate sites. BWI chose the site in Fort Wayne, attracted by the local electric utility’s friendliness toward renewable energy and the city’s interest in investing in its southeast.
Financing Posterity Scholar House
As a Moving Forward awardee, BWI was granted a special set-aside of federal low-income housing tax credits that IHCDA had reserved from the usual competitive process. Equity from the sale of the tax credits provided just over half of the $12.6 million development cost. The next largest funding contribution, at $2.4 million, came from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s Regional Cities Initiative. Credit Suisse Group issued a low-interest loan of just over $1 million, and the Fort Wayne HOME Investment Partnerships Program contributed nearly the same amount. BWI both deferred a portion of its developer fee and made an equity contribution as the general partner.
Table 1: Posterity Scholar House Financing
|Fort Wayne HOME Investment Partnerships Program grant||$1,000,000|
|Soft loan from Credit Suisse||1,020,272|
|Housing Development Fund loan||800,000|
|Indiana Regional Cities funds||2,484,180|
|Federal low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) equity||6,824,318|
|Payment from BWI||175,100|
|Deferred developer fee||299,607|
Reducing Costs Through Utility Gamification and Carsharing
Each apartment at Posterity Scholar House has ENERGY STAR® appliances, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and a smart thermostat linked to a smartphone app. Purdue University, an ESN partner, used a National Science Foundation grant to develop the app, which adds a playful, competitive element to conserving power. The app allows residents to change the temperature in their units, but it is also a game platform; residents can enter competitions and lotteries based on meeting individual or community energy conservation goals to win gift cards ranging from $5 to $100. The app also links users to Purdue’s researchers, who periodically prompt residents to take quizzes and surveys about their energy-use habits. To compensate tenants for their participation, BWI issues each household a $45 gift card four times a year.
A critical element of Posterity Scholar House’s power infrastructure is its array of 287-kilowatt solar panels, installed at a cost of approximately $700,000. The panels are owned by the development rather than the region’s electrical provider, which Hobbs says was an unusual circumstance at the time the panels were installed. The array generates power for direct consumption by the development and provides power to the electrical grid when demand is low; in periods of high demand, the development draws power from the grid. Over a year, Posterity Scholar House is designed to have a net public power requirement of zero.
In pursuit of Moving Forward’s goal of reducing transportation costs for residents, Posterity Scholar House provides tenants with four Toyota Prius hybrid vehicles. Residents can reserve and check out the cars using a carshare app developed by Toyota, a partner of ESN. Hobbs reports that making carshare vehicles available allowed approximately 19 households to forgo the expense of vehicle ownership. The carshare app also functions as a bus pass for Fort Wayne’s transit system.
Posterity Scholar House is the first of four phases in a development with the collective name Posterity Heights. Future phases will include a commercial center with a business incubator, townhomes for seniors, and single-family homes. As for the Moving Forward program, Sipe reports that although it did not accept applications in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, IHCDA hopes to resume activities for 2022.