The Story of Yale Avenue Apartments

The Story of Yale Avenue Apartments

p199rufd561nh91481bbp14jsn5r7By Matt Gleason
Mental Health Association Oklahoma

A prime example of our Housing First model and our Public-Private Partnership models in action involved the building of our Yale Avenue Apartments. It offers 76 apartment units consisting of market-rate units for the community at large, plus units reserved for tenants, including veterans, impacted by mental illness, homelessness, co-occurring disorders and have disabilities.

As early as 2007 the downtown Tulsa YMCA announced it would close its housing program in early 2010 for veterans, older adults, and people who were formerly homeless and had a disability. Without a housing plan in place, tenants were in jeopardy of ending up back on the streets.

The Yale Avenue Apartments were developed to provide housing to about 50 of the approximately 120 men and women displaced by the closing of the YMCA’s housing program. Yale Avenue Apartments was conceived as part of the larger effort of Building Tulsa, Building Lives, which was created not only to just manage homelessness but to prevent and end it.

It was built through the cooperative efforts of the Association staff members acting as consultants with expertise in understanding the needs of people who were homeless and chronically homeless. The Housing Authority of the City of Tulsa acted as developer and construction manager. The Mayor’s office of the City of Tulsa and the State of Oklahoma acted in cooperation and contributed financially. In addition, the Zarrow Family Foundation and the Ruth K. Nelson Trust served as strategic leaders with knowledge, understanding and financial commitment for the project.

Because state taxpayer dollars were used, and the Public Housing Authority non-profit was the developer, Yale Avenue was subject to disclosure under the Open Meetings Act and also required the approval of City Council. The Council approved the project, but the neighborhoods rallied against it, mischaracterizing the nature of the project leading to significant media attention. The developers hired a civil rights attorney, attempted mediation and after that threatened federal lawsuits under the Fair Housing Act of 1988.

Nearly 50 downtown YMCA tenants moved into Yale Avenue Apartments in January of 2010. More than two dozen of them were a part of the Association’s Safe Haven program, which had been embedded on one floor of the YMCA.

The total cost of construction for Yale Avenue Apartments was $9.7 million, including land, construction, furnishings, and equipment. It was financed through generous contributions from the philanthropic community, together with the State of Oklahoma contributions through the Tulsa Housing Authority. The State of Oklahoma contributed $2 million in two separate transactions amounting to a total $4 million, while the philanthropic community provided the remaining funding. Because it was built debt-free, this significantly contributes to cash flow in operating the facility, while maintaining a high level of operational efficiencies.

The Association was also able to secure a long-term contract with the Veterans Administration through the grant and per diem program, for 15 units dedicated to homeless and disabled veterans since it has site control of the complex. In addition, we mixed in 45 units of Permanent Supportive Housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness funded through the Continuum of Care, offsetting the cost of services and operations, leaving 16 units for community access to affordable market-rate efficiencies and one bedrooms. The Veterans Administration funding together with HUD/Continuum of Care grants and tenant rents provides cash flow that allows for 24-hour staffing with a flexible menu of services, including counseling, case management, peer-support, 12-step meetings, meals, cable, phone, and internet.

After opening, many of those who once opposed Yale Avenue Apartments became some of its most outspoken advocates once they witnessed firsthand how it changes and saves lives. Positive outcomes included a reduction in homelessness, the economic benefit to the businesses around the site and a measurable reduction in crime. The same neighborhood associations that were objecting to the project were so happy with the outcome that they convinced the Association to purchase a blighted and crime-ridden apartment complex less than two miles away.

Today, Yale Avenue Apartments offers tenants private living quarters, coupled with community social spaces that are common for its tenants. In addition, low-cost group meals are offered three times a day, but many units have small kitchens that provide the flexibility to accommodate people with a variety of living skills and lifestyles. The complex also features a library with computer access, a workout room, a lounge and activity room and laundry facilities. A key aspect of Yale Avenue Apartments’ location is that it is nearby other amenities with connecting services to public transportation, grocery stores, shopping and employment opportunities in the surrounding area.

During a housing tour of Yale Avenue Apartments, Brad Roberts shakes hands with Glen, who is always happy to open his door and tell his inspirational story.

During a housing tour of Yale Avenue Apartments, Brad Roberts shakes hands with Glen, who is always happy to open his door and tell his inspirational story.

In all, the development of Yale Avenue Apartments illustrates how our overall housing model prevents and ends homelessness for multiple target populations, preserves affordable housing, improves communities and saves taxpayers’ dollars while also saving lives, like Glen’s.

When Glen lived on the streets on and off for five years, he struggled with depression, anxiety, and the fear he wouldn’t survive life on the streets. To meet Glen at Yale today, one wonders how someone so gentle and kind could ever end up alone on the streets. While homeless, Glen said he never allowed himself to call shelters “home.”

“Before I came here, I heard people call the shelters ‘home,’ Glen said. “I refused to do that because it would have meant I had given up.”

In January 2010 Glen finally left behind homelessness on the same day we opened our Yale Avenue Apartments.

“That day,” Glen said, “I walked into my apartment and thought to myself, ‘I’ve made it. I’m finally home.’ ”

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