Project Designed to House Survivors of Human Trafficking Moving Forward

Brent Warren Brent Warren Project Designed to House Survivors of Human Trafficking Moving ForwardRenderings by Moody Nolan.
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Construction is scheduled to start next spring on a new affordable apartment complex designed for – and to some extent by – survivors of human trafficking. Named Harriet’s Hope after abolitionist and Underground Railroad ‘conductor’ Harriet Tubman, the 52-unit project is being developed by the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) and Columbus-based Beacon 360 Management.

Representatives of both organizations are hopeful that the project can serve as a model that can be replicated other places.

“I got into this work after doing some street outreach, and just being really uncomfortable with what I saw, and also I think really motivated to not just sit back and allow it to happen,” said Beacon 360 Management CEO Celia Kendall. “So out of those experiences I began to put together a model for what I thought supportive housing should look like, to house folks who have experienced the kind of complex trauma that comes with having been a victim of human trafficking…I think what we realize is that housing is not enough, affordability is not enough; that housing has to be really built upon thoughtful partnership.”

When Kendall started reaching out to potential partners, she spoke with CMHA early in the process because she had seen them take on innovative projects before, and knew that they already had an awareness of the issue of trafficking and the impact it has had locally.

Robert Bitzenhofer, VP of Planning & Development for CMHA, said that the organization jumped at the chance to be involved.

“This fits so well into our strategy that I don’t think Celia even got through her pitch to us about the project before we said yes,” he said. “We are always looking for ways to, one, expand our portfolio and provide more housing across Franklin County, and two, we serve all parts of the housing spectrum – we have anything from workforce housing to service-enriched housing like this – and we try and find a balance throughout the years of what we’re developing…so it was just a perfect fit for us.”

The $13 million development was awarded Low Income Housing Tax Credits last May, and was recently awarded a $1 million federal grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati. The three-story building will be built on the site of a former Franklinton motel that has already been demolished (the developers are not publicizing the exact address for security reasons).

Other partners in the project include Salvation Army, Alvis, Integrated Services for Behavioral Health, Columbus Works, Franklin County and the City of Columbus.

Bitzenhofer said that each of the units will be covered by a project-based Housing Choice Voucher, so no resident will be required to pay more than 30% of their income to live in the building. “We anticipate that many residents will be below 30% AMI (area median income) and then most or all will be below 50% AMI.”  

(Read more about AMI and how different levels of affordability translate into rents in Central Ohio)

With an anticipated 12-15 month timeline for construction, the hope is that the first residents are moving in by summer of 2023, he added.

Kendall said that one of her goals for the project from the beginning has been to include survivors in the development and design process.

“This project has been from its inception very survivor-informed…they really have a voice in what this community looks like,” she said, explaining that a survivor advisory panel has weighed in continuously on different aspects of the project, and that the architect (Moody Nolan) has conducted several design charrettes to get additional feedback. “They advise the architects on what they’d like to see, based on whatever has helped them to overcome in various programs that they’ve participated in, or just what they think survivors need.”

“What’s interesting about this site is that some of our survivors on the panel were actually trafficked from the very site that they will now be very instrumental in making a solution to this human trafficking issue,” Kendall added. “They got to play a part in the demolition and they were actually out there swinging the sledge hammers…that I think impacted all of us on the development team.”

The front entrance to Harriet’s Hope.
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