By Amy Klaben
Homeport has been my home for 28 years. I have been a volunteer, a Board member, interim CEO and, since 2000, President/CEO. To be honest, I never thought I would be involved as long as I have been, or that I would hold the executive leader position. But as many of you know, effective Dec. 31, 2015, I have stepped down from Homeport to seek out new challenges and start a new chapter in my life.
It is difficult to sum up my experiences and to recall all the people whom the organization helped in providing an affordable home and supporting services. I cannot thank enough the staff, Board members and volunteers whose work, vision and leadership made our successes happen.
I would like to share a few memories, successes and thoughts on why our affordable housing organization is an ever-evolving, relevant and dynamic community asset – and will continue to be so for years to come, building and re-building neighborhoods and lives.
North of Broad
Drive through the North of Broad neighborhood in the King Lincoln District on the Near East Side and you will find 68 modern homes Homeport has built or renovated over the past decade that reflect the area’s historic character and architecture. We provided the support to renovate another 15 owner occupied homes. The approximate $12 million construction investment goes beyond dollars and cents. It has created a sense of change, transformation.
Today, “NoBo” has a classic mosaic, a family fabric where homeowners sweep clean their porches and steps as a sign of pride while their children skip on sidewalks or do cartwheels on the lawn. It offers a community garden, a park with art, and a community association. It is truly a neighborhood where people are taking care of each other, looking out for one another, creating a sense of vibrancy that extends to casual walks, bicycle riding and coffee shop gatherings.
We Care, We Strive
Much further east in Reynoldsburg, children in our Pheasant Run Apartments are nourished emotionally, educationally and with food during after school and summer programs through Homeport’s partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus.
The children do homework, play with their friends and have a “no cellphone” area. They can be kids and have a meal in a safe environment close to home. Their school grades have improved.
Homeport has several initiatives and programs geared to reaching out to its children in a caring manner. It is heartwarming knowing a Homeport child with a skinned knee can feel just as comfortable racing to our youth coordinators on our properties as they would be going home.
While we make great efforts regarding the children of our community, another vulnerable group in Central Ohio is our senior population. It is burgeoning and will continue to grow for decades.
I remember when we opened Elim Manor on the East Side in 2012, some potential residents could not get to the location where we were taking applications. They were stranded by poor health and the lack of an elevator in their existing upper level apartments. We delivered everything they needed to apply, and eventually they were able to move into Elim -- where we have elevators.
Today, we are in the process of re-developing a recently purchased three-story building near Ohio State University at 1379 N. High Street. It has been home to many seniors. As part of the renovation of the Victorian Heritage property, we are adding an elevator so residents can continue to stay there and age in their home with dignity.
Past, Present and Future
One thing that has been consistent for me over time, in fact I believe in it even more, is that housing is the platform for the delivery of services and programs needed to enhance the lives of people in our community. The added work we do at Homeport is critical to the success of families and a reason why tenants stay an average of 4.5 years, triple the normal rental residency. But we need to do more. There needs to be consistent funding for programs that enable our children to succeed in school, for their parents to succeed on the job and to perhaps purchase a home.
The families living with us are predominantly single parents with incomes less than $20,000 a year. Without Homeport, they would struggle even greater in terms of out of school programs, food and transportation. You name the barrier, it is there. And that is why the programs at Homeport are critical and need to be aligned with the housing.
Homeport’s accomplishments would not have occurred without a phenomenal, passionate and caring staff, Board and volunteers that since 2000 have enabled us to grow from 800 to 2,200 affordable apartments and homes. We have also become a valued, communitywide asset, having served over 25,000 individuals in need of homebuyer education, foreclosure prevention assistance and financial literacy programs.
As Homeport leadership transitions, know that the organization is in good hands. Interim President/CEO Bruce Luecke, a former Homeport Board chair, brings significant business and financial experience. As Vice President of Nationwide Bank, he led the Bank’s growth from startup to $6 billion in assets. I will continue to serve the organization in an advisory/advocacy role through April 2016 as the Board searches for its next President/CEO.
Homeport seeks to provide hope, dreams and a sense of community, probably not in that order, for its 5,700 residents. We are only touching a small portion of those in need. It is estimated that Central Ohio has a deficiency of 54,000 affordable homes. I hope the community comes together so Homeport and other non-profits in housing can do even more.