In January 2008, the HOPE VI Project will begin its fourth year. The Benton Harbor Housing Commission undertook a tremendous responsibility in accepting the HOPE VI award, an award that totaled about $15,947.404 in federal grant money. The award was given to revitalize the Whitfield I housing development and to build new houses in the city of Benton Harbor. What started as a dream for some staff of the Housing Commission, business and community leaders of Benton Harbor, residents and others, has finally come into fruition. What some folks thought would never happen, has finally become a reality. Through the partnership of Benton Housing Commission, Cornerstone Alliance and Star Development, seventy houses were constructed in the Benton Harbor community and to date, all the homes are occupied. These houses are located predominantly in the southwest section of Benton Harbor.
In July of 2006, the HOPE VI Project began taking applications from individuals interested in residing in one of the new homes. Over three hundred applications were submitted and processed by the Keystone management office.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Housing Commission staff, the HOPE VI staff, our partners, task force members and all HOPE VI residents for their dedication, perseverance and hard work as we continue to reach for new heights and strive to bring about change for our residents. It is our earnest desire to see each resident become self-sufficient and achieve the success that he/she has always dreamed of.
In 2007, HOPE VI introduced new partnerships and new programs to better train and prepare residents for the future. I will be looking for old partners to recommit and new partners to commit to working with us to assist all our residents see their dream become a reality.
HOPE VI Coordinator
HOPE VI ANNUAL REPORT
A part of the plan for the HOPE VI Project included the renovation of the Benton Harbor Housing Commission Community Center. The Community Center under went a complete overhaul which included the addition of a gym, several new and remodeled office suites, a new maintenance building, a community center with a stage, a computer learning center and a complete new look to the outside of the building. This newly renovated facility now serves as a combination Neighborhood Network facility and Teen Center and is one of the biggest community centers in Benton Harbor. Some of the programs currently meeting at the center include, “I’m Saving Myself, Tai kwon do, Curious Kids and the Opportunity Center. The staff of the Benton Harbor Housing Commission and HOPE VI Project staff returned to occupy the building in May of this year. The Keystone Management Office is also located in the Virginia Edwards Center.
NEW HOME CONSTRUCTION
Construction of 70 three and four bedroom homes (30/3br, 34/4br and 6 stick build homes) began in the latter part of Au gust. Closing ceremony on these homes took place in Lansing, MI in June, 2006. The homes are situated predominately in the Southwest section of Benton Harbor. All 70 homes have been completed and are totally occupied. Eleven HOPE VI families now reside in the new homes. HOPE VI families who were not eligible for a three or four bedroom home may qualify for occupancy of the two and three bedroom units which will be constructed on the former Whitfield I site. Construction of these units (Phase IV) is expected to begin around late summer of 2008. Applicants will continue to be processed through Keystone Management Company with emphasis being placed on Whitfield I residents. Whitfield I residents have preferential treatment because they are the residents who were displaced from Whitfield I apartments. Every effort will be made and CSS case managers will continue to meet and/or make contact with residents to assist them with meeting eligibility requirements.
SERVICE PROVIDER FAIR
This year the HOPE VI Project sponsored the first annual Service Provider Fair. The Fair was held on Wednesday, September 26, 2007. A total of 12 providers/partners set up tables with information for residents. Those providers included: I’m Saving Myself, Girl Scouts of America, Mildred C. Wells, Academy, P&K Cleaning Service, Berrien County Health Department, Cornerstone Alliance Small Business Center, Western Michigan University, The Opportunity Center, Michigan Works, Berrien Teachers Credit Union, Lake Michigan College, and the Family Independence Agency. The Fair was a huge success and plans are now under way for the second annual fair.
The HOPE VI Project, in collaboration with Meijer Corporation arranged for the purchase of school uniforms for all HOPE VI school age children. Parents were asked to present a pre-authorized purchase authorization form (prepared by the HOPE VI Project – attached) to the Meijer cashier in order to make the purchase. Parents were authorized to purchase two sets of uniforms for each child. A total of $1,245.38 was spent for this endeavor and a total of 26 families were served.
HOPE VI NEWSLETTER
A bi-monthly newsletter is completed and mailed to residents, task force members and included in monthly board meeting packets. The newsletter contains information regarding activities, meeting announcements, new partners, etc., and any events/programs the HOPE VI Project will sponsor.
LIFE SKILLS TRAINING PROGRAM
The Life Skills Training Program is the first part of the Benton Harbor HOPE VI Section 3 program. This year the sessions were extended by two weeks and included more self- esteem training. Approximately 16 residents attended the sessions and facilitators included, Dr. Michael Carson, Pastor of Union Memorial AME Church, Mrs. Carolyn Fort, Benton Harbor Area Schools Board Member, Ms, Kareema Al-Amin, Director of Benton Harbor Adult Literacy Program and Mrs. Bonita Mitchell, director of the I’m Saving Myself Program. Again this year, the training consisted of four weeks of classroom training followed by two weeks of on- the-job training at the Redman plant in Topeka, IN. A total of six residents (four in the first session and two in the second) completed the training. Additional training classes will be held in 2008 in preparation for construction of Phase IV.
HOPE VI TASK FORCE COMMITTEE
This committee is made up of 12 individuals who represent a diverse background; from a HOPE VI resident to church pastors. The committee meets four times per year to assist and advise HOPE VI staff and residents. This year the committee received two additional partners, Bonita Mitchell of “I’m Saving Myself” and an other HOPE VI resident, Katrina Parker.
MONTHLY VISION SERVICE
This year the HOPE VI Project partnered with Dr. Robert Flood of the Flood Vision Center and was able to provide free vision service to residents of the community. On October 3, 2007 Dr. Flood and members of his staff came to the Community Center and gave free vision check ups to seven residents/families. Another three families were given referrals to the office. Dr. Flood has agreed to provide the service on a monthly basis to any resident/family who desires the service.
THE OPPORTUNITY CENTER
This program explores the construction industry to introduce the entry-level job seeker to the ways and means of the business. Basic knowledge of industry trades, processes and on-site safety are taught. The mail goal of the program is to prepare the student to enter the workplace as a competent employee who is an asset to a company. The class offers two to three weeks of classroom training and one week of internship. Students are required to sign a “Completion Contract” committing to taking the steps necessary to complete the work/requirements of the class. Classes are held from 9:00 to 12:00 Monday thru Friday at the Virginia Edwards Community Center. At the conclusion of the six weeks, a graduation service is held.
The Benton Harbor Housing Commission is committed to improving the living standards of its residents through the HOPE VI Revitalization Grant that was awarded on July 8, 2004. Along with the HOPE VI Revitalization Grant in the amount of $15,947,404, we also have $48,032,563.00 in private funds and $3,231,056.00 public funds which brings the total project funds to $67,211,023.00.
The uses of these project funds will be to build 70 new low-income, three and four bedroom homes in scattered sites around Benton Harbor and rehabilitate the existing community center in PHASE II. In PHASE IV, we will build 50 low income rental units on the original Whitfield I site, of which 24 will be public housing and 26 will be affordable rental units.