Affordable Housing: Mission Centered

Image of residents dancing

In association with the Retirement Housing Foundation (RHF) of California, UCH acquired the Firelands Retirement Centers in Lorain and Oberlin, Ohio. RHF exited the Firelands communities in 2002 and later the community in Oberlin was sold (2003) as was the community in Lorain (2009.)

Through the efforts of United Church Homes and members of David’s UCC in Canal Winchester, Ohio, Canal Village, UCH’s first affordable housing facility, opened its doors in 1986. UCH’s relationship with David’s UCC and Canal Winchester continues to grow. David’s Way opened on the Canal Village campus in 2007 and plans are underway for Canal Winchester Human Services, the local food pantry and senior transportation provider, to construct a new building on this campus to house their operations.

The average resident earns $12,000 per year and pays less than $200 per month for rent and utilities. The average age is 74 (although there are two residents who are 102); 80 percent are women and 31 percent are minorities.

While learning to serve different cultures can be challenging, it also is rewarding. Intrinsically, people are the same. It does not matter the color of their skin, their ethnicity, or their religion. People all have the same basic needs: a clean, safe, and affordable place to live (preferably near family and friends); food on the table; and access to medications and healthcare. If not for UCH’s affordable housing communities, many of the residents do not know where they would be living today.

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There is the resident in New York, who when asked by a board member how she liked living in the housing community, replied, “it was much better than living under the bridge.” After her husband passed away, she could no longer afford where she was living and became homeless, living underneath a bridge in town.

A Florida resident had been addicted to drugs and living in the woods. She is no longer using drugs and is very happy to have her own apartment. She tells her personal story to youth to help them make better decisions.

A resident in Tennessee used to haul water to his home two miles every day. After moving into our community, he told everyone he lived in “hog heaven.”

When our housing communities were built, funding was not provided for service provision and extra space for visiting medical personnel. Today there is a large emphasis on person-centered care and aging in place or “aging in home.” Through research we now know that providing services is a critical step to aging in place. Such services begin with a service coordinator.

A service coordinator assists residents in completing Medicaid enrollment documents, obtaining Meals on Wheels, food stamps, eye glasses, dentures, financial management, settling medical bill disputes, and more. They arrange for speakers to come to the housing community to talk on many topics such as diabetes, healthy eating, living wills, and power of attorney. Nearly all UCH housing communities have a service coordinator on staff.

Some of UCH’s housing communities have arranged for the provision of medical services on site including visiting doctors, nurses, podiatrists, dermatologists, and mobile mammography. A few communities have partnered with home health agencies to provide wellness centers in the communities and plans continue to create a pilot project to offer in-house therapy to residents by partnering with a visiting therapy company.

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Other services available to the residents. Cosmetology students offer manicures and pedicures to residents of Shelby Station and Woodhollow Glen in Memphis, Tennessee. Shawnee Springs in Bellefontaine, Ohio, is the location for community-wide food distribution. Residents of Shawnee Springs, as well as the greater community, benefit from the distribution. Many housing communities have a doggie park, a small fenced area where pet owners can let their dogs enjoy their freedom in a safe area.

The social interaction within the communities is vital to the well-being of the residents. Activities include much more than the traditional bingo. Birthday celebrations are still important to the residents but residents also enjoy the fun of “Granny” carwashes, chair volleyball, fitness classes, and more. A resident at Mill Run Place in Ashland, Ohio, writes and directs plays performed by residents and staff to the delight of the other residents. Residents at Athena Gardens in Athens, Georgia, have a huge community garden. Many enjoy tending the garden; others enjoy conversation while watching the gardeners; all enjoy the fruits of their labors!

As we look to the future of housing, we see many opportunities to provide important services to many people. We look forward to the challenges ahead and know that Matthew and Jane Smith would be pleased that their gift 100 years ago has grown to serve so many people today and for the next 100 years.

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The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Psalm 92:12-15