Op-Ed: Welcome House Project in Mainstrasse Will Improve Properties, Neighborhood
Welcome House was founded in 1982 by Father William Mertes, then the director of Catholic Social Services who previously served as pastor of Mother of God Church in Covington.
When Father Mertes was appointed pastor of Mother of God in 1971, he spearheaded the effort to rehabilitate Covington’s historic housing stock – a mission that also brought several young, bright, and idealistic men and women to Covington’s historic neighborhoods.
Father Mertes recognized that these young urban pioneers would bring energy to and add value in these deteriorating neighborhoods. A number of these urban pioneers – people like Sherry Carran, Arnold Simpson, Tom Beehan, Joe Meyer, Bernie Moorman, and Chuck Scheper – would not only become residents in these historic neighborhoods but they would later become leaders in our community.
However, Father Mertes recognized that Covington needed housing -- not only for those who could afford to rehabilitate and live in the beautifully restored homes and loft apartments, but also for those who were less fortunate. That’s why he and a coalition of churches founded Welcome House Emergency Assistance Center with plans of opening a shelter for women and children and pushed for affordable housing in Covington.
In the 33 years since our founding, Welcome House has worked hard to recognize Father Mertes’ vision and accomplish the mission he established for our organization: to eradicate homelessness by providing a continuum of services to take individuals and their families from housing uncertainty to housing stability.
One of the important ways we do this is by providing affordable housing opportunities in our community. In addition to our Emergency Shelter, which provides a safe place for approximately 30 homeless women and children a night and served 270 individuals last year, we also own and operate 28 assisted rental units on Greenup Street in Covington.
Earlier this year, in an effort to expand affordable housing opportunities in Covington, we acquired 16 properties -- ranging from efficiencies to four-bedroom apartments -- from an Edgewood-based property management company. Prior to this purchase, Covington code enforcement officers repeatedly cited the previous landlord for failing to maintain these properties.
These properties -- including 14 structures in the Covington’s Mainstrasse neighborhood -- have been used as low-income housing under the federal government’s Section 8 housing voucher program for at least 30 years.
Using Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, Welcome House, working in partnership with Model Group – a property developer with a successful history of rehabbing historic properties in urban neighborhoods – has invested $1.1 million in these properties, thanks in part to large a private donation to purchase these properties on the condition that they only be used for affordable housing.
Rehab plans for these properties will be funded by the tax credits and will entail a complete gutting of the structures, including installing new roofs; new plumbing, electrical wiring, and HVAC systems; new kitchens and baths; and other major capital improvements.
While some Covington residents have objected to the use of tax credits -- specifically the requirement imposed by the Kentucky Housing Corporation that these properties remain low-income housing for 30 years – we believe that employing these tax credits are the only way these properties can be properly rehabbed.
As of February of this year, Welcome House has owned these properties and we plan to keep these properties as low-income housing, regardless of whether or not we receive additional low-income housing tax credits. However, without these tax credits, we cannot make the necessary capital investment needed to fully rehab these units.
After these dilapidated housing units are rehabbed, we believe structures will greatly improve and promote private investment in the neighborhood while at the same time providing new, affordable housing to those who need it.
We have heard concerns about a lack of transparency about this process from some Mainstrasse residents and business owners and we are taking efforts to more actively engage these individuals as we move forward with the second phase of this project.
For 33 years, Welcome House has worked tirelessly to provide housing and other services to those living in poverty or on the verge of homelessness. As we have done with our other residential properties, we will use our experience in providing affordable housing and social service programs to assist our future tenants in these structures to help them become good neighbors and productive citizens.
If given the chance, we believe those who have raised concerns will ultimately find that this project will improve the neighborhood and that residents living in these apartments will be good neighbors -- the type of Covington neighborhood that Father Mertes envisioned more than 40 years ago.
Linda Young is executive director of Welcome House of Northern Kentucky, Inc.