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Secure, Supportive Housing for Survivors of Domestic Violence in Wichita, Kansas

Photograph of the front façade of a one story building surrounded by a lawn, with a sign that reads “StepStone at Bluffview Place” in front.Opened in 2016, StepStone at Bluffview Place provides 28 affordable apartments for low-income survivors of domestic violence in Wichita, Kansas. Credit: Mennonite Housing

Opened in September 2016, the 28-unit affordable apartment development Bluffview Place represents the evolution of local service organization StepStone, Inc’s housing strategy for survivors of domestic violence and their children. StepStone, a Wichita, Kansas-based nonprofit founded in 1995, owned 15 single-family units scattered throughout the city by the mid-2000s, but it found that the further clients were from where StepStone provided services, the harder it was for them to connect with needed resources. After StepStone began to see better results from a more centralized arrangement of six duplexes located close to each another and to StepStone’s office, the service organization begun discussing a centralized development in 2014. In fall 2015, StepStone began its first joint development with affordable housing developer Mennonite Housing — the construction of a secure $5 million development across the street from StepStone’s existing duplexes. StepStone at Bluffview Place provides transitional supportive housing and services to low-income women and children who are leaving situations involving domestic abuse.

Supportive Services and Transitional Housing

StepStone’s work falls under two broad categories: supportive services and transitional housing. Clients contact the organization either through StepStone’s own outreach program or through a referring organization, such as one of Wichita’s two domestic violence shelters, another social service provider, or law enforcement. In addition, StepStone provides training for local law enforcement, court personnel, and advocates.

The organization provides supportive services, which are open to all families regardless of income, using a case management model. In this model, StepStone directly provides services such as therapeutic counseling, guidance on healthy relationships, and access to a child advocate as well as links families to other community providers to meet other needs. For example, StepStone refers clients to organizations that provide drug and alcohol addiction treatment rather than providing the treatment themselves. Kit Lambertz, executive director of StepStone’ says, “We’re the connector.” Clients are eligible for services indefinitely.

Referral to the transitional housing program requires an interview with StepStone’s program director. In addition to Bluffview Place, the nonprofit owns 13 homes in Wichita and is planning to sell 6. StepStone considers the provision of safe, stable housing to be the foundation of its work. “When a family stays at a shelter for 30 days or more, they really only deal with the immediate crisis,” says Lambertz. “For a survivor to get on her feet, it takes longer than that. The 2-year model allows us to offer more intensive services.” A transitional housing arrangement allows women the necessary foundation to begin rebuilding their lives while ensuring that the space becomes available for the next family who needs it.

StepStone at Bluffview Place

Located on approximately 1.7 acres in the Hilltop neighborhood of Wichita, Bluffview Place consists of 3 two-story buildings nicknamed Faith, Love, and Hope to reflect the positive values to which the development aspires. The development has 27 residential apartments consisting of 4 one-bedroom, 9 two-bedroom, 12 three-bedroom, and 2 four-bedroom units. An additional two-bedroom apartment is reserved for the onsite house mother, who assists residents in times of difficulty or crisis, which helps tenants feel secure. StepStone and Mennonite Housing co-own the development, with day-to-day property management provided by Mennonite Housing and supportive services furnished by StepStone.

Photograph of an unfurnished kitchen area with refrigerator, oven and stovetop, and microwave.In addition to the residential units, the development includes communal amenities including a 4,000 square foot clubhouse with offices, a large multi-purpose room, and offices for StepStone. Credit: StepStone, Inc.

Bluffview Place tenants may earn no more than 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), and more than half of the units are further restricted to tenants who earn no more than 50 percent of AMI. Families can stay at Bluffview Place for up to 2 years. StepStone, which accepts housing choice vouchers (HCVs) although no current tenants are enrolled, uses the HVC program’s formula to determine how much rent each tenant is required to pay, with the base charge set at $100 per month. The organization then subsidizes the rest of the monthly rent for the unit, which ranges from $330 per month for a one-bedroom apartment to $640 per month for a four-bedroom apartment. As part of the transitional model, clients are required to hold a job or receive disability benefits to help prepare them for financial independence when the 2-year transitional period is over.

The apartments were designed to be energy efficient and durable, with the transitional nature of the housing in mind. To this end, each unit has ENERGY STAR® appliances and vinyl plank flooring instead of easily worn carpets. Because many of the tenants are referred from domestic violence shelters and do not have their own furniture, all apartments come furnished through community donations. In addition to the residential units, the development includes communal amenities and space for service delivery. Bluffview Place features a 4,000-square-foot clubhouse with a large multipurpose room, communal kitchen, a breakout room, and offices for StepStone staff. The outdoor communal space includes a small children’s playground and an area with picnic tables to host outdoor gatherings and cookouts.

Because Bluffview Place tenants are all survivors of domestic violence, security is paramount for residents and management. “We know that when a survivor is trying to leave [her abuser], the danger escalates,” says Lambertz, speaking about the need for secure premises. The entire development is well-lit and encircled by privacy fences, with controlled access through a gate. Each apartment has a private external entryway, and 16 security cameras record activity on the premises at all hours of the day. “Security is at the top of our minds,” says Byron Adrian, president and chief executive officer of Mennonite Housing. “We’re doing all we can with surveillance and technology.” In 2018, Bluffview Place received additional funding from the United Way, which is being used to enhance the property’s security.

Bluffview Place was financed primarily by equity derived from an allocation of $3,954,169 in low-income housing tax credits. The project also received a $750,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Topeka’s Affordable Housing Program and an additional $150,000 grant from StepStone. “We were able to develop the property with no mortgage,” says Adrian, “and the grants allow us to charge lower rents.” StepStone and Mennonite Housing deferred $130,000 in developer’s fees.

Faith, Love, and Hope for the Future

Bluffview Place currently has six vacancies. Because tenants are eligible to remain for 2 years, and because the development was completed less than 2 years ago, StepStone has not yet graduated its first cohort from this location. Lambertz points out that Bluffview Place was intentionally “planted” in Hilltop, an area with a great deal of low-income housing, to ensure that some of the graduates of the transitional program will be able to settle nearby or in other Mennonite properties. In addition to remaining close to the support offered by StepStone, Lambertz hopes that an influx of families with strong support will improve the neighborhood. “We don’t even know yet what wonderful things are going to come out of this,” she says.

Adrian reports that Mennonite Housing is investigating the possibility of building another LIHTC development in Hilltop, which could provide the next step for families leaving the transitional housing at Bluffview Place. As of early 2018, StepStone has no plans to build another housing project, preferring instead to focus on refining their current process, with an eye toward developing a model that could be replicable elsewhere.

Source:

Joint interview with Kit Lambertz, executive director of StepStone, Inc., and Byron Adrian, president and chief executive officer of Mennonite Housing, 27 March 2018; StepStone, Inc. n.d. “About Us.” Accessed 22 March 2018; Mennonite Housing. n.d. “What We Do.” Accessed 22 March 2018; StepStone, Inc. 2017. “Internal Revenue Service Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax.” Accessed 22 March 2018.

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Source:

Joint interview with Kit Lambertz, executive director of StepStone, Inc., and Byron Adrian, president and chief executive officer of Mennonite Housing, 27 March 2018; StepStone, Inc. n.d. “Transitional Housing.” Accessed 22 March 2018; StepStone, Inc. n.d. “Supportive Services.” Accessed 22 March 2018.

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Joint interview with Kit Lambertz and Byron Adrian, president and chief executive officer of Mennonite Housing, 27 March 2018.

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Joint interview with Kit Lambertz and Byron Adrian, president and chief executive officer of Mennonite Housing, 27 March 2018; StepStone, Inc. n.d. “Transitional Housing.” Accessed 22 March 2018.

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Joint interview with Kit Lambertz and Byron Adrian, president and chief executive officer of Mennonite Housing, 27 March 2018.

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Joint interview with Kit Lambertz and Byron Adrian, president and chief executive officer of Mennonite Housing, 27 March 2018.

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Correspondence with Byron Adrian, 9 April 2018; Joint interview with Kit Lambertz and Byron Adrian, 27 March 2018.

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Joint interview with Kit Lambertz and Byron Adrian. 27 March 2018.

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Correspondence with Byron Adrian, 9 April 2018; Joint interview with Kit Lambertz and Byron Adrian, 27 March 2018.

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Correspondence with Byron Adrian, 9 April 2018.

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Correspondence with Byron Adrian, 9 April 2018.

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