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| 3 min read | by Doug Marrin, dmarrin@thesuntimesnews.com |

Photo courtesy of Avalon

Mayor Shawn Keough recently visited Pauline Apartments in Ann Arbor. The complex is an Avalon Housing initiative similar in size and scope to what is being planned for Dexter in cooperation with Faith in Action – Hilltop View Apartments.

The visit was a guided tour led by Avalon Executive Director Aubrey Patino and Director of Real Estate Development Wendy Carty-Saxon. Avalon’s “mission is to build healthy, safe and inclusive supportive housing communities as a long-term solution to homelessness.” Hilltop View Apartments will be a collaborative venture between Avalon and Faith in Action (FIA), the well-known organization that has been working for the past 40 years to alleviate the effects of hunger and poverty in the Chelsea and Dexter areas.

L to R: Aubrey Patino, Mayor Keough, Wendy Carty-Saxon

“We work in partnership with the FIA staff in supportive housing,” explained Aubrey. “They might interface with our supportive services staff if they’re wanting to problem-solve around a tenancy issue or feedback on how to approach different issues. But FIA is the core service provider and they are why this partnership is taking place. They are rooted in the community and have earned this reputation and have been providing services to the community for a very long time.”

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Hilltop View will have 24 units. Of the 24 units, six will be 1-bedroom designated for veterans. There are ten 2-bedroom units and eight 3-bedroom units. All 18 of these multi-bedroom units are designated for families. Nine of these families will be designated for supportive services from FIA as described above. An administrative building containing offices, a food pantry, common room, and laundry will also be part of the complex as well as spaces for community gardening.

A community room serves a variety of social and educational functions

Aubrey went on to explain that ‘supportive services’, or ‘housing-based case management’, is interacting with the tenants face-to-face providing case management support to residents. It is an individualized approach determined by the quality of life needs of that household. These needs include such things as maintaining housing, food, medical care, relationship building, and community involvement.

Avalon services about 760 people across Washtenaw County. “Most of who we serve are individuals and families who are coming out of chronic homelessness,” said Aubrey. “With Hilltop View that won’t be the case for all those units. Our main goal is to keep people housed but we inevitably work to address other quality of life issues. We are maintaining about a 93% housing retention rate which is pretty exceptional.”

Another part of the dynamic is community building which focuses around common areas such as the gardens and community room.

“A real bonus of our garden program has been that residents are outside in the fresh air and there’s this interface happening,” Aubrey explained. “It’s built community not just among the Avalon residents but with our neighbors.

She also pointed out that the community room gives young people a place to go after school and staff and volunteers are on hand to guide play and help out with homework. The space is also used for classes with such topics as financial management and health and nutrition.

‘Supportive services’, or ‘housing-based case management’, is interacting with the tenants face-to-face providing case management support to residents | Photo courtesy of Avalon

“As we were walking around, it looks like a very nice community to me,” commented Mayor Keough after the tour. “It looks and feels no different than any other multifamily housing units that are in communities left and right from where I live today and work today. You see kids bikes on the grass. You see the Christmas lights on the deck and a Christmas tree is in the window. You see kids smiling, people walking. It’s a community and it’s clean. It’s well kept up.”

Once the tour was finished, Aubrey was asked to comment on recent speculation regarding dangerous behavior at Hilltop View.

“That’s hard for me to answer because I don’t have the data to compare what we see here in our locations with a population density out there that we don’t see,” she said.

“With that being said, when issues like that arise they are addressed immediately, both from a property management standpoint and from a supportive services standpoint and evictions do happen if that’s what’s necessary,” she continued. “We do everything we can to try to prevent that. Usually, we’re so involved with people that we are able to prevent those kinds of things from being something that might impact anyone other than that particular household.”

Three sheaves of folding cranes, each crane representing a person who is homeless in Washtenaw County, hang outside of Avalon’s office as a constant reminder of the need

“There are lots of people who are living right around us now who have active substance use disorders, alcohol use disorders, and other things that they’re struggling with, and that doesn’t result in their neighbors even knowing or being negatively impacted,” she added.

“The thing that is true is that conflating crime and substance use is a real fallacy,” said Aubrey. “I only hear about that connection when we’re talking about low-income communities and that’s not okay.”

“I’m sure in our families, if not immediate then extended, we all have people who are alcoholics, have a substance use disorder, or mental illness,” emphasized Aubrey. “Statistically speaking, it’s impossible that we don’t. So, it’s already here. Just because people in addition to that are experiencing poverty doesn’t make them criminals.

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