In the face of a growing problem of homelessness, exacerbated by a dwindling number of local apartments available for low-income renters, a family of advocates for the poor decided that they’re …
In the face of a growing problem of homelessness, exacerbated by a dwindling number of local apartments available for low-income renters, a family of advocates for the poor decided that they’re tired of waiting for others to take action.
So they bought a hotel outside Jonesburg to begin addressing the need for housing.
The former Budget Inn, located east of Jonesburg on Veterans Memorial Parkway, is being transformed into a complex of efficiency apartments for people who need an immediate roof over their heads and time to get back on their feet. New owners Hope Fick, Wesley Kelley and Jane Kelley are renaming the facility Anchor House.
“This hope is an anchor for the soul,” commented Wesley, paraphrasing from the Bible’s Book of Hebrews.
The facility will accept federally funded Section 8 housing vouchers for low-income people, helping to alleviate a growing problem for people who don’t have stable housing, the new owners said.
“There’s not nearly enough landlords who will accept housing vouchers, because the rates are generally under what they can get on the open market,” Fick said. “I’ve been saying for years that I wish someone would try something different and innovative. As far as I know, there’s not anything else like this in our area.”
Anchor House will eventually be able to offer 42 rooms for rent. The single-room units have shared laundry facilities, and all utilities are included in the price of rent. It’s a very simple form of housing, but for people who have been sleeping in tents, paying for weekly hotel rooms or bouncing between the homes of friends, Anchor House will offer a place to live where they can breathe easy and start thinking about the future.
Fick said there’s no time limit for how long people can stay.
“The goal for this is people will stay here for six to 12 months while we find more adequate housing for them to move into. This is a stopgap,” Fick said. “The goal is to get people stable, working, and incorporated into the community again.”
The living quarters are in very good shape, as Fick displayed during a short tour around the facility. But the common areas require some significant renovation, including the installation of outdoor community areas and a large, shared kitchen and dining area, the owners said. They’re also working on upgrading the furnishings in each room to make them a little more amenable to permanent residents.
But the need for housing is too great to wait for that work to be done, Fick said. So Anchor House has already begun accepting Section 8 housing tenants in partnership with Northeast Community Action Corporation (NECAC), the regional nonprofit that administers Section 8 vouchers.
“There’s a real need for this type of a property everywhere,” NECAC rental program director Dianna Clair said. “The housing market right now is horrid. People cannot find any place to rent. I’ve been doing this for 14 years, and it’s never been like this.”
Clair said people who ran into economic difficulty and couldn’t make rent payments on a previous home are especially struggling, because fewer apartment owners are willing to accept tenants with bad rental history.
Anchor House offers an answer for such people, and Clair said she hopes the facility sets an example for others to follow.
“I’d love to see more of them, so I’m hopeful this project takes off and works,” she said.
None of Anchor House’s new owners are wealthy business people with the kind of cash on hand to buy a hotel facility. To purchase the property, they had to find an investor willing to support the project.
That investment turned out to be a partnership between First State Community Bank and Boonslick Regional Planning Commission’s (BRPC) revolving loan fund. Loans from the two lenders will be paid back over time by rental payments and NECAC voucher payments.
“The cash flow is positive. It’s not a cash cow, but we’re not going to lose money,” Jane Kelley said.
The revolving loan fund from BRPC was a key part in making sure the new owners had enough financing, combined with their own funding, to begin making improvements to the property. BRPC economic development specialist Christine Zika said the low-interest program exists to support small, community businesses like Anchor House.
“The bank had said ‘We’re willing to loan you XYZ amount of money,' and in order for the Kelleys to be able to really get in there to do what they needed to do, they knew that they were also going to need some other loan funds for working capital,” Zika said.
Zika said on top of supporting a community business, BRPC also has a workforce development mission that’s served by this project.
“We have a group of people who are looking for a place to live, and you can’t work until those basic needs are met,” the specialist said. “If we don’t have affordable housing in the community for those individuals, how can we expect them to go to work?”
Despite the funding investment, Anchor House’s owners say they need whatever support they can get for renovation work. Any person or group who is willing to donate materials, labor or money is invited to email Hope@AnchorHouseOWC.com.
Any inquiries to seek housing at Anchor House should begin by calling 636-456-0622.