For years, Flat River Outreach Ministries and a team of dedicated volunteers have been working steadily to provide tenants at Main Street Housing with more space and upgraded amenities. This summer, the non-profit put the finishing touches on individual units and is now ready to move onto the next phase of renovation: a communal gathering space.
Meeting the Needs of Lowell Residents
FROM – as Flat River Outreach Ministries is commonly called — has long provided a food pantry, thrift store and other services to meet the material needs of Lowell families. In recent years, they have made moves to begin filling larger needs as well: namely, housing and transportation.
Providing affordable housing for Lowell residents started by purchasing property on E. Main Street in 2016. Since then, one building on the site has been demolished and another has been totally renovated.
Today, 504 E. Main Street contains 10 units, down from its original 13, and these include a mix of studio and one-bedroom rentals that are roughly 200-600 square feet. Monthly rents range from $350-$650 and include utilities.
Unlike other apartments in town, you won’t see ads for Main Street Housing in the paper or online. That’s because this housing is intended to serve people who are already in the community and need a place to live, according to facility and project manager Jodie Seese.
Instead of advertising through more conventional means, Main Street Housing sets out a sign with applications in front of the building when a unit becomes available. That way it is seen by community members who are walking or biking by.
Rooms are rented on a month-to-month basis, and all applicants must have a job to pay rent and pass a background check. Beyond that, FROM works to accommodate those who may have poor credit or who otherwise could have difficulty being approved for other housing. Evictions can happen, but they are rare, Seese says.
Housing Trifecta: Affordable, Safe, Desirable
In renovating 504 E. Main Street, the main goal was to achieve what Seese calls the housing trifecta: affordable, safe and desirable.
“The first year we were here, everyone got new locks and keys,” she says.
A tenant handbook with expectations was created and, last year, security cameras were added for shared spaces and the building’s exterior. A no-smoking rule was also instituted, as required by law for public housing.
Once the exterior was cleaned up, FROM moved to the interior to renovate living spaces and consolidate units. At one point, seven units shared a single, communal bathroom, but by reducing the number of units, FROM was able to free up space to add private baths for all but two units.
“It’s less income, but we’re not about the income,” Seese says of having fewer units in the building.
That’s not to say the numbers aren’t important. On the contrary, Seese says it’s very important that Main Street Housing be self-sustaining for the long-term, and the rents charged are enough to cover ongoing expenses.
As for the renovation work, about 90% has been done by volunteers, with a core group meeting onsite weekly. Three Eagle Scout projects helped create an outdoor patio space and raised garden beds, and a grant from the Look Memorial Fund was used to address decades of neglect in various parts of the building. Other donor funds have also been integral to making needed updates.
When it comes to making the units desirable, FROM and its team of volunteers have completely transformed the old rooms and installed new cabinets, counters, sinks and bathroom fixtures, among other improvements. Since the units are relatively small, Seese says a lot of thought went into designing practical storage spaces.
Another welcome addition for tenants is the laundry room, which had not been operable for five years. Described as a dungeon-like room with crumbling walls and minimal lighting, it has now been completely restored and modernized for residents to use.
Up Next: Gathering Space
FROM put the final touches on the last unit earlier this summer and is now ready to move to the next major project at Main Street Housing: creating a gathering space.
Currently, Seese, volunteers and visitors meet in a largely unfinished room that features a massive rock fireplace and a circa-1972 coffeemaker. Once the space is renovated, it can be used for resident meetings, or tenants could reserve it for events they can’t comfortably host in their rooms, such as birthday or holiday parties with family.
Main Street Housing is FROM’s first foray into affordable housing, but it won’t be their last. Earlier this year, the non-profit received approval from the Planning Commission to construct additional housing on a vacant lot next to 504 E. Main Street.