WEST FARGO, ND – YWCA Cass Clay broke ground today on a new residence, Grace Garden, in West Fargo, ND, that, when it opens in 2019, will reflect a new ideal of how to end homelessness by providing ‘Housing First’.
“Stability is the key to success,” says YWCA CEO Erin Prochnow. “Grace Garden will be a place of safety and sure footing for 30 women and their children seeking a better life. At the residence, families will be able to improve their economic stability and health, breaking the cycles of abuse and poverty for the next generation by being assured of an affordable home and support that’s unique to each family’s goals.”
The new $4.3 million property follows the current mindset in America, one that YWCA Cass Clay has championed for decades.
The Housing First homeless prevention model seeks to get those who are homeless out of crisis and rapidly into safe and affordable housing. From this sure ground, women and children get continuous support and guidance from a YWCA advocate as they work on personal goals for jobs, health, education, parenting and more.
The Grace Garden idea first arose when Pastor Joel Baranko of Lutheran Church of the Cross reached out to the YWCA. Interested developers had offered to purchase the large grassy lot adjacent to the church’s property at 1402 16th St. E. in West Fargo, however the church declined offers that were not consistent with its mission and might have resulted in a less neighborhood-friendly project.
“I began to wonder how God might be calling us to put to good use the property with which we had been entrusted. How can we live and love like Jesus with this land?” recalls Baranko.
The congregation voted to lease the site to YWCA in May of 2018, providing an ideal situation for families served by YWCA because of the close proximity to schools, bus routes, employment and worship opportunities.
Gate City Bank demonstrated their commitment to providing a better way of life by pledging $1.5 million to fund project start-up costs and support services over the first 10 years.
“It’s particularly exciting to fund the staff or human side; the real game-changer to empowering women after they’re safely housed. They get practical life guidance, encouragement and someone to walk alongside them as they courageously work towards life goals they determine. The impact will be great for generations to come,” said Kim Meyer, Gate City Bank Executive Vice President of Retail Banking and Human Resources.
In November 2017, North Dakota Housing Finance Agency (NDHFA) awarded development support to the residence through the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit, $672,500, and National Housing Trust Fund, $325,549, and the state’s Housing Incentive Fund, $500,000.
“Grace Garden is a partnership of caring concern from the nonprofit, business and community sectors,” said Jolene Kline, NDHFA executive director. “We are pleased to be able to provide the public sector support needed to complete this extraordinary project, ensuring women and children transitioning from domestic violence have a safe and affordable place to call home.”
The North Dakota Department of Commerce is supporting the land acquisition for Grace Garden through the Governor’s Community Development Block Grant Discretionary Funds.
“Our goal at Commerce is directly related to family stability and community revitalization,” Adele Sigl with the North Dakota Department of Commerce said. “Everyone deserves a place to call home and this new YWCA Supportive Housing project is a community solution to help eliminate homelessness by providing hope, dignity, and support in the form of permanent supportive housing.”
The residence will also receive rental assistance from the Housing Authority of Cass County. A $2.2 million, 15-year contract provides 30 Housing Choice Vouchers to ensure every apartment will be affordable to the families that will call them home.
Thanks to the financing secured, the YWCA will not need to conduct a capital campaign to build Grace Garden. The YWCA will fundraise and facilitate donation drives for furniture, equipment and supplies to help families and operate the building.
The YWCA first ventured into providing supportive housing in 1989 when donors gifted a Fargo four-plex to the organization. Today, it operates 32 supportive housing units. The addition of Grace Garden will allow the YWCA to far exceed expansion plans that were put in place by the organization’s local governing board in 2015, a five-year goal of 40 supportive apartment spaces by 2020.
In 2017, 314 women and children were eligible for the YWCA’s supportive housing units, but only 60 were able to gain homes through the organization. “Unfortunately, women escaping domestic violence typically do not score high enough on assessments to be rapidly housed,” said Prochnow.
Prospective participants for supportive housing in the Fargo metro area are screened through an assessment tool used universally by shelters in the region. Shelter providers meet weekly to review the risk scores of homeless individuals in the system. Openings in housing programs are outlined and applicant’s risk scores are used to match them with a housing program that fits.
Grace Garden’s residents will come primarily from the YWCA emergency shelter and other referring agencies in the community.
Construction on the two-story building begins this summer and is expected to finish in spring 2019. The property will include one- to four-bedroom apartments and community spaces for classes and gatherings. Main floor offices will be home base for YWCA advocates, nursing and other professional resources coming onsite.
About YWCA Cass Clay
YWCA emergency shelter is where victims of domestic violence come day and night, 365 days a year, to escape crisis lives and mend emotionally, physically and spiritually. They receive crucial basics like food and clothing, and resources for education and employment as they navigate toward independence. A caring YWCA team connects women and children to community resources that will further empower them. Besides operating the largest emergency shelter for women and children in North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, YWCA Cass Clay operates safe and affordable, short- and long-term supportive housing for low-income women. YWCA offers a food pantry, racial justice advocacy, and a nationally accredited public childcare center, A Child’s World. For more information, visit www.ywcacassclay.org.