"Housing First" apartments aim to end homelessness in Johnson County


    Shelter House development director Angelica Vannatta stands in the doorway of one of the 24 apartments at Cross Park Place, an Iowa City apartment building for the chronically homeless.

    Of all the housing being built across Iowa City, there's nothing like Cross Park Place.

    "We will have the distinction of being the first in Iowa," says Steven Rackis, the housing administrator for the city’s housing authority.

    Shelter House development director Angelica Vannatta stands in the doorway of one of the 24 apartments at Cross Park Place, an Iowa City apartment building for the chronically homeless.


    It's not the rent that makes this place so exclusive. Cross Park Place is housing for the chronically homeless.

    “We do hope to have our first tenants this month," Angelica Vannatta says. She’s the development director for Shelter House, one of ten Johnson County agencies that coordinated on this revolutionary project.

    Cross Park Place offers 24 units, available only to those who meet specific requirements.

    “Have a diagnosed disability, either a mental or physical disability and to meet the HUD definition of chronically homeless, so that means to be homeless consecutively for the last twelve months or four times in the last three years," Vannatta explains.

    Representing the smallest number of the 887 people Shelter House served in 2018, these frequent users are often part of a costly "continuous cycle."

    Shelter Houses' research shows the unreimbursed cost from four homeless individuals living in a "continuous cycle."


    "Going to the emergency room or going to community mental health or even getting thrown in jail,” Rackis says of the most common emergency interventions used by the homeless population. “There's a cost associated."

    That cost most often falls on taxpayers. Shelter House research shows that just four homeless individuals had an average unreimbursed cost of over half a million dollars every year – over $2 million over four years.

    "Ultimately the goal is for the individuals to be self-sustaining," Vannatta says.

    Cross Park Place isn’t temporary or halfway housing; Vannatta says if tenants want to stay for ten or fifteen years, they’ll have a permanent home as long as they keep up with the terms of their lease.

    On-site services, including cases workers and this clinic, will be available for all tenants.


    She explains daily life will be much the same as it is at most other complexes, except for the on-site services available to residents specifically geared towards the “underlying conditions of their chronic homelessness.” That could be anything from a medical condition, mental illness, or substance abuse.

    Iowa City’s housing authority will also provide project-based vouchers to help residents pay their rent.

    "We'll be probably initially paying 100% of the rent, but then after a while the amount of the contract rent that the residents will pay will get factored in as they start bringing income in," Rackis says.

    The hope is that by taking “homeless” out of the equation, the incoming residents of Cross Park Place will be able to focus on rehabilitation and independent living.


    Cross Park Place will have an open house on Wednesday, January 16th from 4 to 6 p.m. The site is located at 820 Cross Park Avenue in Iowa City.

    For more information on this project, go to https://shelterhouseiowa.org/cross-park-place.

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