Catholic Charities of Cortland County to put ‘housing first’

By Katherine Long

Editor

Embodying its “housing first” philosophy, Catholic Charities of Cortland County is leading a joint partnership project to create affordable housing in the city of Cortland.

The Riverview Project will create a 39-unit, mixed housing apartment complex on Riverview Ave. The parcel is owned by Catholic Charities and is currently home to two buildings used by the agency for housing. Syracuse’s Christopher Community, Inc., is partnering with Catholic Charities to develop the project. Construction funding — approximately $7.3 million — is being provided through the New York State Office of Mental Health and New York State Homes and Community Renewal.

The new complex will offer 36 single-bedroom units and three two-bedroom units to individuals with low to moderate incomes. The two-story complex will be complete with “green,” eco-friendly features and all units will be adaptable for those with physical disabilities.

“Our philosophy [is] ‘housing first,’” said Catholic Charities of Cortland County Executive Director Marie Walsh. “What that means is that one of the very first things that people have to have in order to make improvements in their situations — whether it’s emotional, psychological, physical, environmental — is stable housing. Everyone is entitled to decent, adequate, affordable, safe housing.”

The agency frequently sees people in difficult circumstances, including those with mental health conditions, living in substandard or inappropriate conditions, Walsh noted. “They don’t get the supports they need to stay stable, then they face that cycle of moving from one place to another, sometimes evictions, and that just exacerbates the circumstances that cause their illnesses to become more pronounced,” she said.

Twenty of the complex’s units will be supported by the New York State Office of Mental Health in a supported housing model, according to Walsh. That means Catholic Charities will have the opportunity to provide support services to those tenants, including things such as “partial rent payments, helping them set up their apartments [with] furnishings… ongoing personal support onsite to help them maintain their progress, their recovery, in terms of mental health, and moving forward in their lives and staying stable,” she said.

The agency will provide a case manager and desk staff onsite, as well as peer supports. “Other consumers who are successfully living in the community will be there to provide supports to others, which is a very successful model,” Walsh said.

Community reintegration will be key, as “the more people are integrated into their community, the better they do,” Walsh noted. Reintegration is also good for economic development and the health of the community at large, she added.

Walsh said she hopes the project’s groundbreaking will take place in about a month, and that the goal is to have the complex open for residents in September or October of 2016. Staff will move in a few weeks prior, to ensure support services are in place at move-in.

Walsh said she wants more people to understand the project’s promise. “Housing first creates better outcomes for health, education, economy — it’s a winning argument,” she said.

   For more information about the services provided by Catholic Charities of Cortland County, visit www.ccocc.org.

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