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One million dollar grant to Opportunity Village

Posted September 18, 2013 in Clear Lake, Community Web Exclusives

The Kinney-Lindstrom Foundation recently announced a $1-million pledge to Opportunity Village’s housing transition project over the next several years.  This is the largest single foundation pledge ever received by the Village.

The Kinney-Lindstrom Foundation’s commitment to the Village goes back to 1972, when it made a $170,000 pledge to help construct the activity center on the main site in Clear Lake.  At the time, the first two cottage homes were being constructed by Handicap Village, as it was originally known.

This new pledge more than doubles the Kinney-Lindstrom Foundation’s previous grants over the past 41 years.  Before this grant, this Iowa foundation had donated a total of $875,468 to Opportunity Village.  The non-profit charitable foundation, established in 1957, is named for Dr. W.D. Kinney and his wife, Ida Lindstrom Kinney.

“It’s beyond wonderful to get this surprise!  We have pursued a number of housing options that haven’t worked out, so this news is a game changer,” said John Severtson, CEO of Opportunity Village.

Severtson said the Village planned to use the Kinney-Lindstrom grant for maximum benefit.   “One way to do that would be to make down payments of $250,000 each on four homes.  The remainder of the mortgages would be paid off by rents that are affordable to the occupants using their income resources.”

According to rough estimates, total cost of this housing transition project could run $3.5 to $4 million, for constructing, purchasing, or modifying real estate.  That does not include the investment of staff time to carry out this change.

“This grant gets us off to an excellent start, allowing us to move ahead with several new homes and schedule others,” Severtson said.

“By recognizing and responding to our needs, the Kinney-Lindstrom Foundation has provided significant momentum to our fundraising efforts,” said Michael Mahaffey, Chief Development Officer at the Village.  “It will help demonstrate confidence in our efforts as we continue to approach others for support.”

The Village’s number-one priority in the next four to five years is finding appropriate housing in communities for about 75 people who currently live in cottages on the Village’s main campus in Clear Lake.  Cottages, over 40 years old, house up to 16 individuals.

A decision by the Supreme Court, known as the Olmstead Decision, determined that people with disabilities have the right to live in community integrated settings.  The Department of Justice has interpreted this decision as requiring states to direct funding to integrated settings.  People now living in seven original cottages at the Village need to move to smaller settings in ordinary community neighborhoods.

“We continue to feel strongly these are important, valuable concepts that can be beneficial to people,” Severtson said.  “We firmly believe fewer people living together is better.”

Although the Village has been working with area landlords and contractors to find appropriate rental homes for up to five people, some factors may require the Village to purchase homes and become the landlord.

The biggest problem is how to make affordable rents possible for the income levels of individuals, Severtson said.  It is difficult to rent properties from private landlords, especially if adaptations are needed, because they need enough rent to cover their costs.

That puts the Village back in the position of owning more homes, which puts the costs up front.  “The challenge is coming up with contributions, grants, or otherwise buying down capital investments in order to buy homes, because people we serve can’t pay market rents for specialized housing.”

Another barrier is the need for accessibility.  “Making a home more accessible includes bigger bathrooms, no steps, and wider doorways, which is likely new or recent construction.”

With those basic accessibility needs, “new construction costs pretty quickly exceed $300,000 a home,” he said.  Building a home on one level means more square footage, bigger foundations, larger roofs, and so on.

Maintenance of the homes will be covered by rents, and support services for individuals will come from their existing funding sources, primarily Medicaid.

If you wish to help financially with this project, please contact Michael Mahaffey at 641-355-1231 or mmahaffey@oppvill.org.

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