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Affordable housing plan approved near Switchyard Park



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Construction equipment is parked May 25 at 1730 S. Walnut Street, the area of a new affordable housing project. It was described as a part of Bloomington that is "in transition" by City of Bloomington spokesperson Yaël Ksander. Sam House

The City of Bloomington Redevelopment Commission approved housing developer RealAmerica’s plan to build new affordable housing units at Switchyard Park’s eastern entrance on May 18, according to the city. Designing and engineering is set to begin in spring of 2021 and construction is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2022. 

“It's going to set the stage for future development in a part of Bloomington that’s really in transition,” City of Bloomington spokesperson Yaël Ksander said.

The Retreat @ the Switchyard at 1730 S. Walnut Street will be four or five stories tall on the 1.5-acre site. There will be 50 apartments with either one, two, and three-bedrooms and 3,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. Doris Sims, director of the Housing and Neighborhood Development Department, said they wanted to mix in market-rate apartments that will also be built in addition to the 50 affordable housing units. 

Apartments will be built with modern amenities, including free Wifi and a patio or balcony and 10% of the units will have handicap-accessible features. Common spaces will feature a fitness center, computer room, dog wash, playground, bike racks, and office space for caseworkers at Stone Belt, a nonprofit organization supporting people with disabilities. 

Stone Belt clients will be offered 20-25% of the units. The remaining units are for people earning 50-80% of Area Median Income.

The Redevelopment Commission chose RealAmerica as the housing developer for several reasons. Sims said they liked that RealAmerica had experience being successfully approved for tax credit projects. Also, Sims said they liked how they are a Women's Business Enterprise-certified company, meaning they are majority owned and operated by a woman or women.

Sims said RealAmerica will apply for a Low Income Housing Tax Credit by September. She said the land will transfer into their possession and they can start building the project if they receive tax credit.

“Hopefully by the end of the year, we will have an idea if the project Real America submits for the land will be accepted by the state for tax credit,” Sims said.

Ksander said the mayor and his administration have made it a priority to increase the amount of affordable housing in the city. She said there is a huge demand for affordable housing in Bloomington and across the United States.

“People everywhere are coming up with really innovative and creative ways to deal with it across the country,” Ksander said. “I would say Bloomington is among them.”

In 2017, Bloomington was ranked as the most expensive city to live in Indiana as reported by the Indy Star. The decision was made based on costs of rent, food and transportation. However, according to 2018 Census data, 36.6% of people in Bloomington live in poverty. The state poverty rate is 13.1% according to IndexMundi.

The city is pushing for more affordable housing in a variety of ways by attempting to shape development. This includes zoning to allow a mixture of housing types in neighborhoods or purchasing land to sell to developers who can be granted funds to build affordable housing projects.

Bloomington is also asking developers either to include affordable housing in their plans or to contribute to the city’s Housing Development Fund which supports other projects, Ksander said. 

The city also has multiple other affordable housing projects in progress including the over halfway-completed Union at Crescent, Switchyard Apartments on the west side of Switchyard Park and apartments renovated by the Bloomington Housing Authority with the Department of Housing and Urban Development Rental Assistance Demonstration program, created to preserve and improve public housing.

“People have recognized that there's a lack of affordable housing,” said Deborah Myerson, South Central Indiana Housing Opportunities executive director. “There's a gap between what people earn and what they can afford.”

The mission of SCIHO is to expand housing opportunities for low and moderate income households. In addition to building affordable housing, it has an informational website called Housing4Hoosiers, a semi annual tenant and landlord education series and a “Renting in Indiana'' handbook.

SCIHO is building Switchyard Apartments and Myerson said the first construction phase has been completed and the first tenant moved inThursday. Another eight units will also be built in phase two.

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