Journal of Housing & Community Development

Awards of Excellence: Whitehall Apartments

August 8, 2019

The Housing Authority of the County of Chester (HACC) wins a 2018 Award of Excellence in Project Design for developing permanent supportive housing for homeless veterans, the Whitehall Apartments. Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.

Chester County, Penn. is home to the Coatesville VA Medical Center, a facility that normally houses more than 200 homeless veterans in its transitional housing units or emergency shelter. Many of these veterans are chronically homeless and struggle to find affordable, permanent housing with supportive services in an area with the highest area median income in Pennsylvania. Even when veterans do manage to find an affordable home, living far away from crucial supportive services creates new challenges. To address this problem, the HACC decided to create an apartment complex exclusively for veterans. 

After an extensive search, HACC partnered with Mission First Housing Group, who have a regional reputation for a “true commitment to seeking ways to construct and manage supportive housing for veterans who have experienced homelessness.” Mission First found a property, just outside of Spring City (Penn.), bordered by a road that led into town where the veterans could receive supportive services. The site was also home to a closed colonial-era inn: the Whitehall Inn, which was built in 1802. Instead of demolishing the inn, they incorporated it into the development’s design as a community room and the home of the superintendent. 

Applying for Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LITHC) was another challenge that HACC and Mission First faced. They applied three times to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency before finally receiving a LIHTC allocation. The remaining gaps in funding were filled by the Home Depot Foundation and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh. 

Mission First constructed 48 permanent supportive housing apartments for veterans using passive house design standards, which will reduce resident utility usage by 80 percent. The complex has wide hallways to accommodate multiple wheelchairs and other mobility aids; the building is also surrounded by walking paths, beautiful landscaping and plots for vegetable gardening. 

Residents have access to comprehensive support services provided by the Coatesville VA Medical Center and a full-time resident services manager through Mission Frist’s resident services department. Also, an on-site property manager and live-in superintendent provided by Mission First affiliate Columbus Property Management manage the property around the clock. Onsite amenities include a community room, fitness center and computer room, and laundry facilities. 

The Whitehall was dedicated on June 2017, with a list of attendees that included dignitaries, government officials, architects, developers, and their most honored guests: the once-homeless veterans, now housed in beautiful new apartments with access to much-needed support services. After a few months after the grand opening, all the homes were filled with happy residents.

Despite construction and funding challenges, HACC and Mission First partnered with each other to provide housing and supportive services to veterans in an expensive area. They were even able to preserve a historic building along the way.  

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