BY CRAIG COLEY
South Central Indiana Housing Opportunities (SCIHO) is working to make housing more affordable for renters who pay above-average rents while earning below-average wages. Executive Director Deborah Myerson says the entire community benefits when there is a range of housing options. “What’s the quality of life in Bloomington if only wealthy people can afford to live here?” Myerson says.
SCIHO was created in 2015 as a nonprofit affiliate of the Bloomington Housing Authority (BHA). The BHA manages Bloomington’s three public housing projects and administers the federal housing voucher program, but is restricted in how it can use the money it receives. BHA Executive Director Amber Skoby says SCIHO is intended to be “flexible and creative and take initiatives that the Housing Authority cannot.”
One such initiative is the Switchyard Apartments project. Construction is scheduled to begin in July on eight affordable apartments at 1901 S. Rogers St., adjacent to what will become the city’s Switchyard Park. The project—which will ultimately have 16 units—is possible because SCIHO has arranged for a 99-year lease from the city for only $1 per year. Myerson hopes other landowners will support SCIHO’s mission with similar arrangements.
But development is only part of the effort. “It’s one thing to get the housing, it’s another thing to stay in the housing,” Myerson says. Tenants often need support in budgeting and in understanding their rights and responsibilities.
To that end, SCIHO is launching an online one-stop resource for renters (Housing4Hoosiers.org), scheduled to go live in April. SCIHO’s strategic plan also includes a program to create master lease agreements with landlords to make it easier for people with housing vouchers to find apartments.
Myerson, an urban planner, was hired as executive director, SCIHO’s only paid position, in November 2016. Since then she’s drawn on what she learned while working as a consultant for the Urban Land Institute. But as SCIHO widens its scope to fulfill the regional mission suggested in its name, she will be entering new territory.
“We got off to a strong start,” Myerson says. “Now’s the sustainability and growth phase. I think we’re ready for it.”