A hand up

Appleton Housing Authority marks 50 years of helping put people into affordable homes

Posted on May 30, 2018 :: For the love
Jessica Thiel
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Sometimes reaching self-sufficiency requires a bit of a helping hand.

For the past 50 years, the Appleton Housing Authority has given just that to people facing all kinds of circumstances. The organization is celebrating the milestone anniversary and decades of providing affordable housing options to low- to moderate-income households.

The organization launched in 1967 after Appleton leaders identified a shortage of adequate and affordable housing. Oneida Heights, a high-rise, affordable housing complex for senior residents, opened in 1971. Since that time, AHA has continued to expand its programming and housing options, including Grand View Townhomes, a 40-unit complex that opened last fall.

Grand View Townhomes on Bluemound Drive in Appleton features one-, two- and three-bedroom townhomes that range in size from 714 to 1,483 square feet, with units set aside for people from all income levels.

The success of the tax-credit property development speaks to the strength of AHA as a high-performing organization and to the help of partners including private investors, the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority and the Wisconsin Department of Administration Division of Housing, says AHA Executive Director Debra Dillenberg.

“We’re all about partnerships because that helps you to expand your housing,” she says. “That’s the only way today you can build affordable housing.”

In addition to Oneida Heights, Grand View and Riverwalk Place, a fixed-income senior housing complex in the Eagle Flats development on the Fox River that opened in 2012, the AHA assists people through a multitude of avenues. The organization helps people from all walks of life, from homeless people to veterans to those with disabilities, and all types of families, whether it’s single mothers, married couples or two-parent families.

In 2007, it helped address another problem: affordable housing for workers.

It worked with Pitney Bowes on a workforce housing program designed to provide housing options for lower-income workers. WHEDA provided 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at below-market interest rates, and the Wisconsin Department of Commerce kicked in $350,000 to help with down payments and create an affordable monthly payment. In addition, Pitney Bowes committed $50,000 to provide an additional $5,000 toward down payments for 10 employees.

The AHA administered the program, and its success led to work with SECURA Insurance Co. for a similar program. The company provides grants to help associates purchase their first home. To date, more than 30 employees have taken advantage of the program.

These programs are a win-win for companies and employees, Dillenberg says. They help businesses foster more positive relationships with employees and make it more likely those employees will stay with the company longer.

“They have stability,” Dillenberg says. “SECURA has stability for workers, and the workers have stability with housing.”

The AHA’s Housing Choice Voucher program, formerly called Section 8 housing, provides rental assistance to low-income individuals and families in the private rental market. Once issued a Housing Choice Voucher, people can use the voucher to live where they choose, and this is a key part of the program.

“One thing I learned in my housing career quite a while back is that you don’t group low-income people in one area,” Dillenberg says. “You don’t concentrate poverty in one area.”

State Rep. Amanda Stuck, who serves the 57th Assembly District, received a housing voucher when she was a young single mother putting herself through school. Without stability, it’s difficult to overcome challenges and achieve goals, Stuck says. The voucher program allowed her to focus on work and school.

“The organization itself does so much more than pay people’s rent,” she says. “Debra is always looking for ways to do more.”

The waiting list of 888 for the voucher program has been closed for more than a year because of funding uncertainties. Those have been resolved, and the AHA plans to reopen the waiting list soon.

Moving forward, Dillenberg says the AHA plans to pursue development of more tax-credit housing, citing it as the only way to have more affordable housing, as well as continuing to educate the public about the AHA and its mission.

“It’s important to have housing for people at all levels, all ages,” she says. “That’s the impact that I see.”