Lindenlaub retires from HPI, Thrive Alliance

Republic file photo Thrive Alliance Executive Director Mark Lindenlaub is retiring after leading Housing Partnerships, Inc. for 31 years and serving as the executive director at Aging & Community Services of South Central Indiana for 13 years.

The man who led a regional effort to create affordable housing in Columbus and south central Indiana is retiring.

Thrive Alliance Executive Director Mark Lindenlaub has led Housing Partnerships, Inc. for 31 years and served as the executive director at Aging & Community Services of South Central Indiana for 13 years.

Teresa Lorenz has been named the new executive director of Thrive Alliance and Aging and Community Services. Kevin Johnson is already working as executive director of HPI. Lindenlaub said Lorenz and Johnson have the expertise that will better serve clients in the future.

Lindenlaub has always been very passionate about his job and the work he does, former HPI board president Shannon Unsworth said.

“I’ve been blessed with a career I love that I feel is providing service to families that may have not had as many opportunities as some others,” said Lindenlaub, 64.

A invitation-only celebration of Lindenlaub’s career will be held at The Commons from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. today.

Raised in West Lafayette, Lindenlaub’s love for architecture led him to enroll in a five-year program at Ball State University in Muncie.

“Over the course of my first year, I realized my love and interest of the outdoors was where I wanted to put my time,” Lindenlaub said. “I graduated with a four-year degree in environmental sciences and a five-year-degree in landscape architecture.” He would later return to Ball State to earn his master’s in business administration.

After initially working in Indianapolis, Lindenlaub left the permanent job to accept a temporary position offered by renowned landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburg. It was his responsibility to oversee the renovation of Mill Race Park.

Construction at Mill Race began in June, 1990. When the work was completed in the fall of 1992, Lindenlaub was out of a job.

But it wasn’t long before he became associated with a two-year-old nonprofit based at First Presbyterian Church.

Funded with an initial startup grant of $30,000 from the church, the new organization used volunteer labor to turn dilapidated homes into quality affordable housing. After seven other local churches joined forces with First Presbyterian, the organization became known as Housing Partnerships, Inc. (HPI).

Construction director Darrell Unsworth became the first full-time employee of HPI. It took a few more months before they hired Lindenlaub as executive director, based mostly on his MBA and design skills, he said.

While HPI did not have a definite plan starting out, Lindenlaub said the organization understood there has long been obstacles to providing safe, decent and affordable housing. That motivated the organization to expand services, which Lindenlaub said was one of the drivers that motivated HPI into providing rental housing in 1994.

After the nonprofit decided to completely renovate the old National Guard building at 7th and Franklin into 25 affordable apartments for seniors, Lindenlaub worried he and Unsworth may have bitten off more than they could chew.

“As Darrell and I started to get into the grant work, we used to joke that we were too dumb to know it won’t work,” Lindenlaub said. “We dreamed big, and did things like the armory that were not on the radar of the original founders. We worked every step hard until we could find a way to get to the next step. You do that 100 times or 1,000 times. Then, you’ve got a project.”

The Armory Apartments was named 1998 “Project of the Year” by the Indiana Association for Community Economic Development.

The next project involved working with the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center from 1997 to 1998 to renovate 14 substandard houses into decent, affordable rental homes.

“We were really focused on trying to take the worst house in a downtown neighborhood, and make it the best house on the block,” Lindenlaub said. “Studies show that if you look at a block where we have renovated a handful of houses, compared to a block next door that we hadn’t touched, they show property values of neighboring properties had either stabilized or gone up.”

Housing Partnerships became well-known and respected in the region, which spurred growing community support.

“When we started out, we had an all-volunteer model,” Lindenlaub said. “We have relied on community support and donations throughout our history.”

In 1999, the nonprofit celebrated its 10-year anniversary by reaching the milestones of 100 homes built and 50 homes sold.

In 2001, HPI received nearly $500,000 in federal grants to create 10 homes to sell to first-time home buyers. That same year, Lindenlaub was presented the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing.

Another milestone was reached in 2003 when HPI broke ground on it’s first-ever subdivision on McKinley Court, platting five lots and building the first three houses.

“At first, the inclusion of rental housing did not raise too many eyebrows,” Lindenlaub said. “But as we began to build up our rental properties, that’s when we got a little more scrutiny.”

HPI found itself facing a potentially devastating financial challenge when then-Bartholomew County Assessor Tom Owens reversed his previous determination that the agency’s homes were property tax-exempt.

Twice before, the Property Tax Adjustment Board of Appeals agreed that HPI was qualified under state statutes for property tax exemption on affordable housing. When the decision was reversed, the nonprofit was developing additional properties with a 15-year commitment and a budget that did not include property taxes, Lindenlaub said.

“When they reversed the decision, it immediately put a structural deficit on our program,” the retiring administrator said. “Our only option was to continue appealing.”

The main contention of the Property Tax Adjustment Board of Appeals is that they did not believe HPI qualifies as a charitable organization that performs services the government doesn’t provide. In addition, a number of landlords complained they have to pay taxes on rental property that supports local government and public institutions while HPI did not have that burden.

As financial losses accumulated, HPI was forced to sell off homes for the first time in its history.

Despite the financial challenges, HPI continued to move forward. In 2009, the agency celebrated its 20th anniversary by expanding the original mission to include all aspects of neighborhood redevelopment, not just affordable housing.

“We saw we were serving a number of single parents, but the housing program would not pay for a garage or fenced yard because neither is considered housing,” Lindenlaub said. “We recognized that if you are a single parent and want to be doing chores at home, you need a safe place for your kids to go out and play. We added that to our normal work plans to better the lives of those worked there.”

In March of 2011, Lindenlaub took over as executive director of Aging & Community Services (ACS) of South Central Indiana, while still maintaining his leadership position with HPI.

“Housing grants provide housing, but they don’t provide money for supporting the families,” Lindenlaub said. “ACS helps people figure out what their needs are, and develop resource plans to address those. It really was a mission fit.”

When the announcement was made, ACS board president Susan Waltz praised Lindenlaub for “taking his strong personal values and morals and transferring them to his work to provide the best services possible.”

The two agencies officially joined forces in 2013 under a single name: Thrive Alliance. It was the same year that HPI purchased and renovated Cambridge Square Apartments, providing housing units for 70 families. Two years later, HPI renovated four vacant historic buildings in downtown Greensburg into 40 senior apartments.

In 2012, Lindenlaub was awarded the Michael A. Carroll Award from the Indiana Association for Community Economic Development.

After 12 years of appeals and financial stress regarding the county’s property tax reversal, the Indiana Board of Tax Review ruled in favor of HPI in 2018. They ordered that the nonprofit be granted property tax exemptions for its housing projects for each year under appeal. The determination referred to 60 properties.

Bartholomew County was ordered to repay HPI $750,000 for property taxes paid from 2009-17, which included all back taxes the county had charged during the appeals process.

But just as they appealed the 2006 tax decision, Lindenlaub and his organization knew county government would appeal the decision to the Indiana Tax Court. From 2019 to 2020, HPI continued to pay property taxes and interest.

The celebrations came in 2020, when the Indiana Tax Court concurred with the Indiana Board of Tax Review that HPI qualifies for property tax exemptions.

Today, Thrive Alliance Housing Services now manages more than 100 affordable rental homes as well as five multi-unit complexes in Columbus, Greensburg and Seymour.

They have recently received a $1.2 million grant to construct low income house in Terre Haute. The nonprofit also announced plans to construct 128 affordable housing units on the side of a vacant nursing home on Midway St.

Lindenlaub says the creation of the Armory Apartments in the 1990s, as well as the final 2020 tax exemption decision, were among the most satisfying moments of his career.

But neither compare with the privilege of working with the staff at Thrive Alliance, Lindenlaub said.

“We’ve seen staff improve and really blossom in their careers,” Lindenlaub said. “The client success stories are best, but second is just watching all of our staff gel together and rise to meet challenges head on.”

About his career

During his tenure with HPI and Thrive Alliance, Mark Lindenlaub has held numerous positions with state associations and local community organizations. In addition, he has received numerous awards for his professional and community-involvement accomplishments that include the following:

  • Indiana Association for Community Economic Development, Board of Directors 2002-present including a two-year term as president.
  • Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis, Affordable Housing Advisory Committee 2003-2009, serving as chair in 2008.
  • Governor’s Distinguished Hoosier Award, 2007
  • Governor’s Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing, Leadership Award, 2001
  • United Way of Bartholomew County (Self-Sufficiency Vision Council and Strategic Planning Committee)
  • Brown County Partnership, Vision 2020 Tracking Committee, Chair, 2008-present
  • Friends of Brown County State Park, 2007-present; President, 2009-present
  • Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, Affordable Housing Task Force, 2007
  • Columbus Rotary Club, 1996 to present
  • Governor’s “Service Above Self” Award, 2008
  • Columbus Rotary Club’s “Teree Bergman Service Above Self” Award, 2008