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Avalon Housing: A place to call home

By Everett Cook, Managing Sports Editor
Published January 20, 2013

Their first house opened in 1992 with six residents, Paul being one of them.

Avalon is succeeding for a variety of reasons, but its most successful implementation lies in what they do differently than every other landlord in Ann Arbor.

Formally called supportive housing, Avalon does all the things a regular landlord does — maintenance, repairs, management, etc. — but also offers support services for all their tenants. Most landlords screen out tenants — Avalon screens high-risk tenants in. They can do this because of their support services, which are run mostly by social workers. Even though the sessions are voluntary, more than 80 percent of tenants participate, and even the ones who don’t participate fully still use the services in some capacity.

“We believe that housing is a basic human right,” McCabe said. “It’s a pretty clear hierarchy of needs. If you don’t have a stable shelter, then you really can’t have a job or take care of your business.”

Avalon offers a range of services to their residents. There are some in Avalon who have both addiction problems and mental health issues, and the support services for those tenants can be intense.

Fifteen Avalon residents also need help taking their medication in the morning. Those 10 morning minutes are the difference between being able to live independently in Avalon housing and going off their meds, spiraling out of control, getting evicted and winding up in another shelter.

It’s a little bit more complicated than that for most of the other residents in Avalon, but the goal remains the same for the non-profit, no matter how high-risk or low-risk the residents are. The goal is for every resident to maintain their housing and not get evicted, and the support services are a big part of that.

“… We don’t require people to be clean and sober when they move in — we screen in people who are screened out by every other landlord,” McCabe said. “We are often the last housing option for some folks.”

There’s also the price of living in an Avalon house: Rent goes for about half of the market value on average. Average doesn’t mean everyone, though, because Avalon has a lot of tenants that are on a fixed income, relying on social security and disability pensions as their only source of income.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, an individual who pays more than 30 percent of their income towards rent is considered to be “cost-burdened.” For those residents who don’t have jobs or income besides the monthly checks, 30 percent isn’t a whole lot of money, significantly lower than even what would be considered affordable housing.

But at Avalon, giving housing to residents with that income is encouraged.

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Incredibly, Avalon operates debt-free. There are no loans from the bank and Avalon owns every house and property they rent out. Often times, units are built from the ground up to adhere to specific accommodations.

Avalon has achieved this by drawing from anyone and anything they can. The money for the physical buildings comes mostly from the government whether from the low income housing tax credit program, subsidies, grants, IRS programs or a litany of other programs.

Avalon is in competition with every other human service agency for local government dollars and foundation grants, as well as private donations.

They’ve been able to make it work — growing even during a recession — but they are still quite a ways away from total financial comfort. Part of that comes from Lansing and its reluctance to dedicate a constant stream of funding for supportive housing, and part comes from a drying up of donations after the recession. Though these factors are important, the biggest funding that Avalon faces comes from the national perception of supportive housing.

Over time, supportive housing programs can save local, state and federal governments significant funds.

Example: Avalon has a first-year resident who suffers from a litany of physical and mental issues, so much so that he took a Huron Valley ambulance to an emergency room 27 times last year.

Ambulance rides are not cheap, and for a homeless person who doesn’t have any money, much less health insurance, these rides are impossible to pay for.

In the one year this resident has lived in Avalon housing, he has ridden an ambulance a grand total of three times.

“You can calculate right there the savings to the community and the health system,” McCabe said. “We have evidence of saying that if you give us a little bit of money up front to pay these social workers, that keeps people out of your system.”

“Healthcare is housing.


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