BY HANS IBOLD
“Lighter, brighter, safer.”
Not exactly the words normally associated with a bureaucratic name like Bloomington Housing Authority (BHA), but that’s how its executive director, Jennifer Osterholt, characterizes several BHA projects in the works.
Created in 1961 to help provide affordable housing, the BHA is halfway through a ten-year revitalization project spearheaded by Osterholt. At a glance, the BHA looks much like it did ten years ago: It uses federal, state, local, and resident-generated funds to operate its more than 300 homes in the Crestmont, Reverend Butler, and Walnut Woods developments. It also manages the Housing Choice Voucher Program, or Section 8, which provides rental vouchers for more than 1,300 families in Bloomington.
Look inside one of its homes, however, and you will witness a transformation in progress. Supported by state and federal grants, the BHA completed major energy upgrades to all three developments, which have led to nearly $400,000 in energy savings since 2008.
Along with energy-efficient lighting, windows, air conditioning, and plumbing, the homes—occupied mostly by elderly residents and the working poor—also got interior and exterior facelifts.
Smarter and nicer are fine, but for Osterholt the BHA’s ultimate goal is to break the cycle of poverty. A first step is to facilitate a sense of community pride and responsibility, she says. To that end, a council made up of residents from each development meets regularly to share ideas about sustainable living, community development, and eco-friendly lifestyles. Residents can also participate in free workshops on home repair, resume writing, literacy, and budgeting. An ongoing challenge is to integrate BHA homes into Bloomington’s larger community—and thus integrate its residents.
“Our job is to connect our clients with Bloomington,” Osterholt says. “The lack of connection creates a generation of folks who won’t break the cycle of poverty.”
This connection is especially important for children, according to Osterholt. The BHA has instituted several large improvement projects just for children, such as the Crestmont Boys & Girls Club annex and the Head Start building in Walnut Woods.
“In Bloomington, we have an opportunity to have a major impact on children,” Osterholt says.