ByMichael J. Traylor
The Southern Indiana Rural Development Project Inc. (SIRDP) recognizes the long-term commitment it takes to effectively address rural development issues in Southern Indiana. Over the past year, that commitment has centered on affordable housing.
Although affordable housing issues have been a major focus of urban areas, housing advocates have not always recognized the need in rural communities. Although rural residents' housing needs are not as widespread as those of their urban counterparts, these residents feel the relative impact just as strongly. In early 1996, the SIRDP Housing Task Force chose Scott County to be a pilot project for facilitating affordable housing.
During the following months, SIRDP met with representatives of the Fed's Louisville Branch, as well as the Indiana Housing Finance Authority (IHFA), the Kentucky Housing Corporation (KHC) and USDA Rural Development's Indiana Office. The task force also visited with the Federation of Appalachian Housing Enterprises Inc. in Berea, Ky., to observe and learn from one of the most successful community development corporations in the country.
These meetings provided a perspective on state and federal resources available to address housing needs. In addition, the lack of a nonprofit housing organization was identified as a primary deficiency in Scott County.
In response, a survey was sent to CDCs, community housing development corporations (CHDO) and bank-sponsored CDCs throughout the country. The survey requested guidance on the appropriate structure of a rural CDC and asked respondents to identify their successful projects.
Since the average population served by agencies responding to the survey was 72,000, this raised a question of whether Scott County, at about 21,000, was large enough to accommodate a CDC or CHDO. However, the populations of respondent communities ranged from 10,000 (one county) to 180,000 (16 counties).
Successful projects were as varied as the size of the communities: renovations, grants for down payments on existing homes, development of single-family units primarily through renovation of an existing building, implementation of a computer reuse program, development of a revolving loan fund to assist small local businesses with start-up costs, and development of a $32 million hospital/housing complex.
After sharing this information with community leaders, the Scott County Housing Partnership, comprising a local team of affordable housing advocates, emerged. Although much work is yet to be done, a local nonprofit, Ohio Valley Opportunities (OVO), approached the Partnership about becoming a provider of affordable housing in the county. At that time, OVO had applied to IHFA for CHDO status and has since received this designation. OVO is now working with the Partnership to assume a formal role in addressing Scott County affordable housing needs.
In the meantime, the Partnership has not been idle. With significant input from local financial institutions, the Partnership assembled a model for home ownership education throughout the state. Based largely on KHC's Yes You Can...Own A Home program, the one-day class provides potential homeowners with the necessary tools for buying a home.
Without useful input from dozens of people and the agencies with which they have worked, SIRDP and the Partnership could not have been successful. With everyone's input, this effort may become a model program for the entire state.