Velma Davis, an 83-year-old widow who has lived at Cambridge Square Apartments for 27 years, has watched the place evolve from danger zone plagued by crime and daily police calls to comfort zone featuring freshly renovated buildings.
She sits in an easy chair, from where she has watched the good and bad from a front-row perch at her living-room window. Nearby, a wooden wall plaque bears the inscription: “This is the day the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
In recent months, Davis’ view has become increasingly positive as construction workers continue an $8 million-plus renovation of the property for new owner Housing Partnerships Inc., a Columbus-based nonprofit agency committed to affordable housing.
The project — due to wrap up by July — has resulted in a floor-to-ceiling makeover of about 80 percent of the property’s 70 apartments so far. They have new hardwood floors, improved insulation, modern appliances, energy-efficient designs and the addition of balconies on upstairs units, plus several other features.
“I watched that whole building across the parking lot go up. The construction workers were busy as bees over there,” said Davis, whose life most weeks is filled by visits from her six children, assorted grandkids and occasional shopping trips or breakfasts with a sister.
“When I moved in, this was a rough, rough place,” Davis said from her one-bedroom apartment. “I told my family I’d live here a little while, but I won’t stay long. Well, I’ve stayed nearly 30 years.”
Davis said Cambridge Square Apartments, at 3301 McKinley Ave., has become a better place to live since Housing Partnerships bought the property last April from Senior Center Services, now known as Mill Race Center Inc. The sales price was $1.35 million.
Construction started in earnest last fall.
Julie Beaubien, a Housing Partnership vice president, said 24 units remain to be fixed, and walking trails and a children’s playground still have to be built when the winter weather thaws.
A two-story community building that will house social services and a property manager’s office is nearly done. It should be ready for use in less than 45 days, Beaubien said last week. It will include a meeting room where tenants can have parties, watch TV or use computers with access to the Internet.
Construction and property management are being handled by Flaherty & Collins, an Indianapolis real estate firm.
Tenants at Cambridge Square must be low-income renters under federal affordable housing rules. Some are unemployed. Others in their mid-20s are seeking high school diplomas after having dropped out of school as teens. Others — like Davis — are elderly and on fixed incomes.
Nearly all of the residents get some level of federal rental assistance linked to their incomes. Many pay half or less of what would be market-driven rents for their one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments.
Davis pays $259 per month out of her pocket for a ground floor, one-bedroom unit. She also pays for her own cable TV and phone.
Beaubien said Housing Partnerships has largely shifted to focus more on owning and managing affordable rentals rather than home-ownership programs since the real estate bubble burst.
The agency, which works in Bartholomew, Jennings, Decatur, Brown and Jackson counties, has about 200 properties, from multifamily apartments to duplexes, four-plexes and single-family homes.
Beth Kunzman, the on-site property manager at Cambridge Square, said some residents were afraid that Housing Partnerships planned to raise rents and ease low-income residents out when they first learned of the $8 million renovation.
But familiarity with the nonprofit agency has led to a greater degree of trust these days, Kunzman and Beaubien said.
“They realized we wanted to acquire it, renovate the units and change the mindset about what it was like to live here. We work to empower the residents. We partner with other social services agencies to get people medical and educational assistance and other things they need to improve their lives,” Kunzman said.
The construction work, which has been going on nearly six months, has required juggling apartments and moving tenants to and fro as their units were next up for hammer, saw and paintbrush. Some residents were briefly shuffled to temporary homes at the Fox Pointe Apartments on Fox Trail Lane.
“We were doing a lot of the shuffling around during the Christmas season, and that was a hectic time for residents,” Kunzman said.
Today, Cambridge Square is 87 percent occupied.
The property qualifies for federal housing assistance, but market prices for units — if they were in the rental inventory with commercial projects — would range from $768 a month for one bedrooms to nearly $1,200 a month for a few four-bedroom units, Kunzman said.
Tiffany Guthrie, 28, lives in a renovated three-bedroom apartment with her husband; two children, ages 6 and 9; and two stepchildren, ages 10 and 12. She has called Cambridge Square home for about four years.
“This was the first home of my own,” said Guthrie, who is working to get a high school diploma and land a good-paying job. She dropped out of high school as a senior years ago after becoming pregnant with her first child.
She starts GED classes today.
Rena Mathews, an unemployed 24-year-old mom, lives nearby in another three-bedroom with five children ages 2 to 7 years old.
“I applied for an apartment here nearly two years ago, but I went on the waiting list. I was finally able to move in last November after this unit was renovated. I call it perfect timing,” said Mathews, who also has plans to seek a GED diploma and land a job.
She pays $100 a month for her three-bedroom apartment out of her own pocket at this point. Federal rent subsidies that pass through the Columbus Housing Authority cover the rest of the monthly cost.
“I love it here,” Mathews said. “I’m job hunting. But I’m not trying to live here forever. I’m trying to get on my feet so I don’t need anyone’s help.”
How Cambridge Square got fixed
Chase, a national bank, provided construction financing for the project.
Alliant Company, a nationwide sponsor of affordable housing tax credit financing, contributed about $7.1 million of equity to the project. The funds are being used for construction and other fees.
The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority stepped up with a $1.5 million loan to the project that aided both acquisition and construction. IHCDA also contributed a $400,000 construction grant.
The project is set up with a 15-year affordability period and tax credit structure. Alliant will invest $7 million up front. Then, over the next 15 years, it will see a return on that investment in the form of annual tax credits.
Source: Housing Partnerships Inc.
Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!
All content copyright ©2013 The Republic, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.