Supportive Housing for Individuals With Mental Health Conditions in Columbus, Ohio
Opened in summer 2018 on the north side of Columbus, Ohio, Laurel Green Apartments is an affordable permanent supportive housing development for residents with mental health conditions. The $7.3 million project prioritizes individuals who are ready to leave an acute care setting, such as a hospital or psychiatric institution, but face homelessness if discharged. Local nonprofit Community Housing Network (CHN) is the developer and manager, and the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health (ADAMH) Board of Franklin County is the service provider. Laurel Green Apartments helps to fill an acute need for permanent supportive housing in Columbus, which at the time of the project’s opening in July 2018 was so severe that the ADAMH Board reported a countywide wait list of more than 3,000 applicants.
The Community Housing Network
The ADAMH Board is a public entity tasked with connecting clients to addiction and mental health services. The board runs public education campaigns, coordinates mental health and substance abuse programming, and pays for services provided by its nonprofit contract agencies. CHN was established in 1987 as a private nonprofit agency contracted to develop and manage housing for the ADAMH Board: to date it has developed more than 1,200 units. Laurel Green is the third project CHN has completed since 2010, and it is part of the nonprofit’s efforts to meet the ADAMH Board’s goal of adding 250 permanent supportive housing units by 2026.
Laurel Green is an L-shaped, three-story building in a contemporary style. The development has 40 one-bedroom apartments ranging from 650 to 700 square feet, with one unit reserved for an onsite manager. Thirty-one units are reserved for tenants who earn no more than 50 percent of the area median income (AMI) per year, and 8 units are reserved for those earning no more than 30 percent of AMI. Because tenants are unlikely to have their own furniture when they move in, each apartment comes partially furnished with a bed, dresser, sofa, and stools for the pass-through kitchen counter. Each unit is adaptable to the needs of people with mobility restrictions; three are fully accessible and two are equipped for tenants with sensory impairments. Residents are referred to Laurel Green through institutions or their ADAMH Board caseworkers. Laurel Green prioritizes its units for individuals in an acute care setting such as a psychiatric institution who have no safe place to go upon release.
Laurel Green has numerous amenities, including common areas for socializing and service delivery. The development also features a community room with a full kitchen, a computer room, a laundry room, and an exercise room with fitness equipment. Tenants may socialize in large groups in the first-floor communal areas or in smaller groups in seating areas on the upper floors. The first floor also houses offices for the onsite property manager and the full-time ADAMH Board service provider. The provider coordinates Laurel Green’s onsite services, which focus on life skills and independence and otherwise vary based on the needs of residents. “[Our services] are directed by who’s there and what they want,” says CHN chief executive officer Samantha Shuler. “We have cooking classes, meetings of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, and a lot of engagement activities to help build a community.” In addition, the ADMH system connects all residents to a case manager.
A Place That Feels Like Home
Because Laurel Green was built for tenants who have spent time in facilities such as hospitals and shelters, CHN and Berardi + Partners Architects took care to ensure that their design decisions communicate a residential rather than institutional feel. The units have an open plan kitchen, dining, and living room space, which makes them feel larger and less confining. “Our flooring looks like wood, the furniture is upholstered [with] fabric rather than vinyl, [and] the light fixtures are residential rather than fluorescent boxes,” says Laurie Sutherland, senior development manager at CHN. To reduce environmental stress, CHN selected a color palette with greens and blues and hung large canvas prints of nature photographs on the walls. Sutherland reports that although CHN buildings usually are designed with large expanses of exterior glass offering sight lines through the building to combat claustrophobia, this design was not entirely possible at Laurel Green because of its compact site. Instead, Laurel Green features large interior windows to allow natural light to filter into hallways and open sight lines to the outdoors.
CHN chose the 0.9-acre property because of its proximity to amenities, the character of the surrounding neighborhood, and the availability of the land through the City of Columbus Land Bank. Previously the site of an office building that burned down, the property is in a safe residential area a few blocks from a main thoroughfare and less than a half-mile from a bus stop. Also readily accessible are a public park, a public library, and various retail and fast food locations that present the potential for employment. The property’s proximity to public transportation is especially important to CHN because most Laurel Green residents do not own a car. CHN purchased the property from the land bank for $70,000 in spring 2017, and the construction of Laurel Green began in July.
The $7.3 million development received public funding through several sources. The largest funding source was $2,747,615 in low-income housing tax credit equity, followed by a $1,550,000 contribution from the ADAMH Board of Franklin County and a $1,000,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati. The remaining funders were the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the city of Columbus, Franklin County, and the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.
Addressing the Need for Supportive Housing
Laurel Green leased up quickly and was fully occupied as of May 2019. The demand for permanent supportive housing in the Columbus area remains high and is expected to increase as the region grows. Between 2015 and 2040, the population of Franklin County is expected to grow by 14 percent; should the proportion of residents living in poverty remain constant, the ADAMH Board anticipates that rates of homelessness, substance abuse, and mental illness will also remain consistent with existing rates. To account for the region’s urgent and growing need for supportive housing units, CHN is working to meet the ADAMH Board’s goal of adding 250 affordable permanent supportive housing units to the housing stock by 2026. As of spring 2019, the developer has two residential projects in progress: one for people facing chronic homelessness and one for transition-aged homeless youth.
Ohio Housing Finance Agency. n.d. “Featured Property: Laurel Green Apartments.” Accessed 9 April 2019; Interview with Samantha Shuler, chief executive officer of the Community Housing Network, 16 April 2019.×
Community Housing Network. n.d. “About CHN.” Accessed 9 April 2019; Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County. n.d. “ADAMH Mission, Vision, and Core Values.” Accessed 10 April 2019; Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County. 2014. “2015–2017 Strategic Plan for Housing.” Accessed 16 April 2019.×
Correspondence from Laurie Sutherland, senior development manager at the Community Housing Network, 17 April 2019; Interview with Samantha Shuler, chief executive officer of the Community Housing Network, 16 April 2019; Ohio Housing Finance Agency. n.d. “Featured Property: Laurel Green Apartments.” Accessed 9 April 2019.×
Interview with Samantha Shuler, 16 April 2019;×
Correspondence from Laurie Sutherland, 17 April 2019.×
Interview with Samantha Shuler, 16 April 2019; Correspondence from Laurie Sutherland, 17 April 2019; Community Housing Network. n.d. “Laurel Green Fact Sheet.” Accessed 21 April 2019.×
Correspondence from Laurie Sutherland, 17 April 2019.×
Interview with Samantha Shuler, 16 April 2019; Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County. 2016. “Community Plan Instructions SFY 2017.” Accessed 10 April 2019; Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County. 2014. “2015–2017 Strategic Plan for Housing.” Accessed 16 April 2019.×