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Delays slow changes to county Alms House

By Alex Bridges

Efforts to improve and use Shenandoah County's Alms House in the fight against homelessness remain on track, but still years away.

The Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter must first shift its program from transitional to permanent, supportive housing in order to qualify for federal and state money needed to renovate the Alms House. Executive Director Sheila Orndorff said Monday the nonprofit agency continues to work on the draft of its new program while it provides emergency housing to the homeless.

"Transitional housing is a thing of the past," Orndorff said.

Alliance worked with Shenandoah County and Abingdon-based People Inc. on a plan to renovate and build 12-14 apartments in the Alms House. Estimates in 2011 put the project cost at approximately $1 million. Deadlines to use grant money approved for the project passed and the county and People Inc. had to turn down the awards when Alliance had to change their approach to tackling homelessness.

When the parties can move forward on the project remains uncertain.

"If the money can be secured in 2014, I'm sure -- most of the grants are 2-year grants -- that we'll start construction in 2016," Orndorff said. "But we don't know those dates yet because we haven't secured those funds."

Robert G. Goldsmith, president and chief executive officer of People Inc., said by email Monday that, given the delays, the cost "will definitely be higher, but we are not to the point of redoing cost estimates yet, as we are months away from being able to apply for funding."

The source of most of the funding approved initially for the project -- the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta -- has kept the offer of more than $500,000 on the table.

"The feedback I got from the program design and from the development side that they were very interested in funding the project," Orndorff said.

The Alliance for Shelter has submitted a draft of a program for permanent supportive housing and is awaiting approval of the document.

The agency also is working with Shenandoah County to develop a memorandum of understanding that would include dates and deadlines for the project, when the Alliance for Shelter can reapply for grants and other criteria related to initiative.

Putting the funding back together for the project may not happen for another two years, Goldsmith estimated.

People Inc. plans to apply again, at the next opportunity, for funding through the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, the Northern Shenandoah Valley Home Consortium and to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.

The Federal Home Loan Bank has not yet announced the dates for its next application period, Goldsmith said. People Inc. officials hope the bank's next application cycle takes place in September. Goldsmith said the bank last year took applications in January and September. The lending agency only held one period in previous years.

"If they have one in September this year, we feel that the Alms House application will be ready for submission at that time," Goldsmith said. "It will take time because these application cycles only happen periodically and so as they come up we'll move forward."

County Administrator Mary T. Price pointed out that the Federal Home Loan Bank funds awarded in 2011 came with a requirement that People Inc. spend the money within two years. That deadline came up last year.

"We knew we were not going to meet that," Price recalled. "We never received a dime of that money but we were approved for the $500,000 forgivable loan."

"Since that time we have been working with the Alliance and People Inc. to start the application processes again," Price said.

Even after People Inc. advised the Federal Home Loan Bank that they would not use the grant money by the deadline, Price said she continued to receive messages by email from the lending agency indicating an interest in funding the project.

"They're anxious; they're interested in the project and they have given us every indication that it's not a problem to receive that $500,000 in funding again," Price said.

People Inc. raised $750,000 in committed funds toward the $1 million estimated cost of the project. The Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta had approved approximately $500,000 in a forgivable loan for People Inc.The Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission in Front Royal approved a $250,000 grant for the project through the HOME Consortium. However, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development turned down applications from People Inc. seeking the remaining $250,000 because of the changes to the grant criteria, Goldsmith said.

The county declined the money offered by the Federal Home Loan Bank at the recommendation of People Inc., Goldsmith said.

People Inc. then asked the regional commission to allocate $25,000 toward an application for a future grant. People Inc. used the money to pay for architectural and engineering work on the Alms House project. The initial engineering and architectural work has since been completed.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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