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A hand up, not a handout: HAND proposes project in Fishers for workforce housing

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Hamilton County Area Neighborhood Development is doing its part to lend a hand to people with housing needs.

HAND, a Noblesville-based organization that addresses the housing needs of low- and moderate-income individuals, families and senior citizens, wants to bring its next project to the intersection of 141st Street and Cumberland Road in Fishers. A rezone request for 2 acres on the southwest side of 141st Street and Cumberland Road was proposed at the December Fishers City Council meeting. If approved, the request will become Cumberland Cottages, 11 detached cottages facing a central green and designated for families or single parents.

HAND officials are informing the public about the project and what the term “affordable housing” really means.

“One of the main things we do is develop housing that folks on the lower end of the income spectrum can afford,” HAND Executive Director Andrea Davis said. “Most people call it affordable housing, but that conjures some negative images in people’s minds, so there are lots of different ways to describe it – affordable, attainable or workforce housing.”

Davis said many residents, such as those working at restaurants or grocery stores or as cashiers, can’t afford to rent or buy a home in Hamilton County. A basic rule of thumb is that rent or mortgage should not be than 30 percent of a person’s income.

“If you factor in the standard of you shouldn’t spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing, there’s a lot of housing out of reach for folks,” Davis said. “One of our goals is to try to identify properties where we could build affordable communities or existing properties we could take and make affordable, like an older apartment complex, for example, that hasn’t been invested in.”

HAND has eight properties throughout Hamilton County, none of which are in Fishers. HAND also is new to the concept of creating an affordable community for workforce housing. Its past projects have mostly been for seniors. Its most recent project, Home Place Gardens in Carmel, is its first that also accommodates non-seniors. It includes two single-family homes and eight duplexes for seniors.

The zoning for the Cumberland Cottages site is low density, meaning one or two units is approved per acre. Becasue HAND is requesting 11 units on 2 acres, a rezone request is required. The proposed cottages will be approximately 1,200 square feet, but the design hasn’t been completed because HAND is trying to get the property rezoned.

The cottages might have carports instead of garages for cost savings. The rent has not been announced for each unit, but the figure depends on what the construction costs are and what types of funding HAND receives for the project. The cottages will be rented based on what the residents’ income is.

Depending on income, some units may cost up to 40 percent of the median rent rate, while others could be up to 50 and 60 percent. Some could even be rented at market rate. The market-rate cottages would not have more features or more space than the subsidized structures.

Davis said HAND has received comments from parents who can’t afford properties costing $1,500 to $1,800 a month in Hamilton County.

“We are thinking this project will target young families, single parents or grandparents raising grandchildren,” Davis said. “It’s a 100 percent family housing development, so we are pretty excited about that. We try to identify the needs of our community and then try to meet them.”

 Concerns from the Fishers City Council

At the December Fishers City Council meeting, council member Selina Stoller expressed concern that the proposed Cumberland Cottage units are for rent instead of for sale. Stoller said she supports the idea of providing affordable housing but would like to see those in need have a chance to eventually own their own home instead of perpetually paying rent.

HAND Executive Director Andrea Davis said most families in need of affordable housing can’t get approved for a mortgage.

“This is intended to serve families that just need a bit more stable financial footing to move onto the next thing,” she said. “One of the concerns we heard from council is there are a lot of rentals in Fishers and they want more for-sale housing. While that is an absolutely valid point, folks we are talking about serving in this community are probably not able to go to the bank and apply for a mortgage and get it. They don’t have credit or savings, so our hope is by living in an affordable property like this for a couple years, they can get savings set away and figure out budgeting. If you have that huge burden overhead of about 80 percent of your paycheck is going to rent, then you’re never able to save. That’s the reality.

“People hear affordable housing and think it’s full of freeloaders, but this is a hand up for folks to let them get their stuff to together so they hopefully can move onto homeownership.”


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