Strawberry Fields Bringing New Life to Former House of Care Property in State College – Statecollege.com

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The former House of Care property in State College will be transferred to Strawberry Fields Inc. for use as permanent supportive housing for homeless adults with mental health needs. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
State College Borough Council on Monday unanimously accepted a proposal to transfer the former House of Care property to local nonprofit Strawberry Fields Inc. for use as supportive housing for homeless adults with mental health needs.
House of Care operated a personal care home for extremely low-income individuals with serious health limitations for 26 years at the 515 W. Beaver Ave. home before closing in May 2021, with the nonprofit’s board saying it was “no longer sustainable due to insurmountable challenges.”
In 1995, State College Borough used used $172,197 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to acquire and rehabilitate the two-story house for House of Care Inc. When the nonprofit dissolved last year, ownership of the house reverted to the borough.
Earlier this year, the borough issued a request for proposals that would comply with CDBG requirement for the property to continue to benefit low and moderate-income people. Strawberry Fields and Out of the Cold: Centre County both proposed similar uses.
Borough senior planner Maureen Safko wrote in a policy briefing summary that “both organizations made very compelling arguments for the need for this facility.”
“[Permanent supportive housing for adults with mental health needs] has been identified as one of the most serious and highest priority housing needs in the community,” Safko wrote.
Both proposed providing on-site case management to residents, who will pay an affordable monthly rent and contribute toward household needs.
Staff ultimately recommended Strawberry Fields’ proposal because of the organization’s 50 years of experience owning and managing group homes for
disabled individuals. They credited the nonprofit for using the Fairweather Lodge model, which helps people reintegrate into the community through emotional support, housing and employment.
Strawberry Fields also has “a depth of staff that specialize in mental health care,” performed “a thorough evaluation of the condition of the building,” and demonstrated planning for building operating expenses, Safko wrote.
Candidates for residency will be sought from Strawberry Fields’ own clients and from shelters in the community, including Out of the Cold.
The briefing noted that the borough provided $634,000 to Out of the Cold in December 2021 to purchase a permanent shelter at 318 S. Atherton St.
“Both agencies are very good,” said Councilman Peter Marshall, who has previously served on the Strawberry Fields board and volunteered for Out of the Cold. “Strawberry Fields has extensive experience in operating group homes and they do a very good job. I think the recommendation from staff is the right one.”
Similar to the arrangement with House of Care, Strawberry Fields will have a 40-year mortgage with a $1 per year payment.
Ownership of the property would revert to the borough if it ceased to be used for a CDBG-eligible purpose, or if Strawberry Fields were to dissolve.
In accepting the proposal, council also agreed that the borough will provide $100,000 in CDBG funds available this year for needed rehabilitation work, based on an estimate prepared by residential property professionals.
Strawberry Fields and the borough will work cooperatively to secure an additional $60,000 to $100,000 for further rehabilitation in 2023.
Staff “seriously considered the cost versus benefit of retaining this property,” but decided that the house’s location, large side yard and elevator, as well as the proposals for use, made it important to keep in the borough’s affordable housing stock, Safko wrote.
“Ultimately, the location of the building close to employment and transportation; the elevator; the mental health benefit of outdoor living spaces; and the value of a garage all led to the conclusion that this was a valuable property to retain,” according to the policy briefing summary. “All of these factors make the property important to retain in the borough’s affordable housing stock. The elevator is a particularly unique attribute that further increases the value of the property because of its uncommon suitability to house special needs populations in a location where supportive services can more easily be provided.”
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