Rutgers University study of HPI property in Prairie du Chien

 
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Note: The following is an excerpt from Leveraged Projects: Case Studies of Non-conventional Community Residential Program Development, prepared by Rutgers University for the New Jersey Developmental Disabilities Council, 1/98. The purpose of the research was to explore ways to involve the private sector in providing housing for people with developmental disabilities. The research highlights Liberty Place in Prairie du Chien, a HPI property, as a case study using tax credits.
Prairie du Chien, a town of fewer than 6,000 people on the Mississippi River in southwestern Wisconsin is the site of Liberty Place, a rather unique apartment complex. Liberty Place opened July 8, 1991 and was built specifically to serve individuals with developmental disabilities. This unique facility was sponsored by Heartland Properties, Inc. (HPI) on behalf of its parent company, WPL Holdings, Inc. (WPLH.) Wisconsin Power and Light Company (WP&L) is also a subsidiary of WPLH and provides utilities for Crawford County, the seat of which is Prairie du Chien. The developer was Carolyn Brady.
HPI has sponsored several housing developments for individuals with special needs. A facility similar to Liberty Place, with efficiency apartments for people with developmental disabilities, is located in Platteville, Wisconsin. The corporation also has facilities scattered throughout the state for the homeless, for battered women, and in Beloit developed transitional housing for individuals coming out of prison.
The Physical Structure
Liberty Place is a walk-up, frame structure on slightly less than half an acre with four wheelchair-accessible apartments on the ground floor and six other units on the second floor. All are efficiency apartments with kitchen, bath, and combination living room-bedroom. An adjacent property is a building with senior citizen housing which was also developed by Heartland for WPLH. Liberty Place is within walking distance of both the town center and other places of employment where residents might work.
Liberty Place was conceived as part of a community development effort to meet housing needs in areas served by Wisconsin Power and Light. The building is wholly owned by WPLH and qualifies for tax credits under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program of Section 42 of the Internal Revenue Code. Tax credits allocated by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) amount to $279,470. The initial equity investment by WPLH was $162,700. Additional financing came from a loan from WHEDA in the amount of $171,763.
In order to qualify for tenancy at Liberty Place, the income of a resident must fall below 60 per cent of the median family income in Crawford County. In reality, this includes most individuals who would like to live there. Rent is $334 per month with cable television, and the building is generally fully occupied.
Though Liberty Place provides an opportunity for fully independent living, the residents require additional support services. Until this year, supports had been provided by Opportunity Center, Inc., a large sheltered workshop in Prairie du Chien As of January 1, 1997 all the people at Liberty Place receive support from Lori Knapp, Inc. The latter is now the only residential service provider in Crawford County. Staff is on the premises from 7 - 8:30 a.m. and from 3 - 8:30 p.m. or as needed, seven days a week. In addition, there is an emergency cellular number manned by Lori Knapp staff round-the-clock.
The Residents of Liberty Place
According to an administrator with Lori Knapp, Inc., the agency providing supports for the residents of Liberty Place, most of the current residents were part of the original group of tenants. The individuals who have left have generally gone on to live completely independently.
The atmosphere at Liberty Place is somewhat reminiscent of a college dormitory. On a late weekday afternoon tour of the facility, most of the apartment doors were open and residents were in and out of other apartments visiting their neighbors. Though the tenants are living independently, their life is sheltered but obviously a happy existence.
The first tenant to move into Liberty Place continues to occupy one of the accessible apartments on the ground floor. He is a young man in his early thirties who h has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. Prior to living at Liberty Place, he lived in a group home and then in an apartment where he received much greater support than is provided for residents of Liberty Place. He works at Opportunity Center, and goes on annual vacations of his own choosing.  A second occupant of an accessible apartment is blind and has difficulty walking. He was injured at age sixteen and was in a coma for a year and a half. He also works at Opportunity Center and has lived at Liberty Place since 1992.
One of the newest residents moved into Liberty Place in May 1997. She is a middle-aged woman who prior to moving to Liberty Place lived first in a group home and then in an apartment with another woman. In addition to having mental retardation, she hears voices. However, she appears to be doing well living on her own and working at Opportunity Center.
According to an administrator with Lori Knapp, Inc., perhaps the best known resident of Liberty Place is a man who works for Dicks--a supermarket chain. This gentleman loads grocery orders into vehicles and has been with the company for several years. He first needed a job coach but now works independently and is known throughout the community as being courteous and pleasant to the customers.
One woman with Down Syndrome, who has lived at Liberty Place for several years, has just gone through a year of severe depression. She has been overweight and has recently lost some weight and is now socially more active. In fact, she recently returned from a yachting trip in Maine with her siblings. She also works at Opportunity Center and now walks to work.
One of the newer residents is a 44-year-old man who, until moving into Liberty Place, lived with his family on a farm. He has both mental retardation and a seizure disorder. Previously quiet and timid he appears to have blossomed in his own apartment.
One young man works for Quik Trip, a local convenience store in maintenance. He has, in the past, worked at Hardee's, a fast food restaurant, and is one of the building's original occupants. He and another resident of the apartment complex just returned from a trip to Washington, D.C. where they report they had a wonderful time.
Another of the original tenants is a man in his fifties who collects aluminum cans for his living. He is well known about town, and diligently pursues picking up cans every day. Reminders about personal hygiene are the principal support he needs to live independently.
Residents of Liberty Place have the advantage of living in a small town where almost all facilities and activities are within walking distance of their home. People in the community know them and "look out" for them. They have the advantages of the sociability that such a congregate living space affords, the privacy of their own apartments, and the security that a small town in Middle America still provides.
Conclusion
Through the use of tax credits, WPL Holdings (the parent company of Wisconsin Power and Light) was able to develop a viable project which houses ten individuals with developmental disabilities in their own efficiency apartments. Admittedly, the project is in an area with real estate values considerably below those in most parts of New Jersey. Nevertheless, this is an example of the valuable contribution which local companies can make in providing affordable housing to people with developmental disabilities. Perhaps it can serve as motivation for provider agencies to develop alliances with other corporations who can benefit from the tax credits and at the same time provide a valuable service to the geographical areas they serve.

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