Even the rain couldn’t dampen the spirits at this gathering.
Under a gray cloud cover and intermittent showers on Monday afternoon, a crowd of about 20 people gathered to watch a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of a future apartment building on the corner of Fruitland Lane and Neider Avenue that will house low-income persons with disabilities.
Participating in the event were a handful of city officials, including Mayor Sandi Bloem and several city council members, as well as St. Vincent de Paul Society of North Idaho board members and staff, who at the end of the ceremony shared nine golden shovels as they dumped the first scoops of dirt into a freshly dug pit at the construction site.
“Everyone is deserving of a place to call home, and this is an opportunity for providing some of those homes in the future,” Bloem said. “I think this is also a model of strong partnerships – federal, state and nonprofits – and how they can work together for a common goal.”
The apartment building, which will consist of 14 one-bedroom, roughly 550-square-foot units and one, two-bedroom manager unit, will be operated by St. Vincent de Paul when it’s completed by Contractors Northwest of Coeur d’Alene in about a year. Funding for the project came from a $2 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 811 program, a nationwide initiative that provides funding to nonprofit organizations to develop rental housing with the availability of community services while allowing persons with disabilities to live as independently as possible.
And to keep the housing affordable, the program offers rent subsidies, with tenants paying only 30 percent of their adjusted gross incomes each month, and the project, which sits on land leased from the city for 75 years, will be federally subsidized for 40 years.
To win the grant, it took the dedicated work of a group of employees from state, city, nonprofit and outside agencies. Coeur d’Alene was up against some stiff competition, so to be given the grant is a testament to the teamwork involved, said Jeff Conroy, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul. “It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s a national competition. That’s huge for us. It speaks a lot to the community; it speaks a lot about St. Vincent’s and how much they trust us to manage the project; and it speaks a lot about the city council and the city of Coeur d’Alene.”
It’s a win-win situation, added Sheryldene Rogers, a consultant with the Spokane-based Goodale and Barbieri Co., which coordinated the development team for the project. “These people here today sweat blood for about two years to make it happen.”
“This is a very important day,” said Councilman John Bruning, who also serves as president of St. Vincent de Paul group’s board of directors. “Because of the growth of Kootenai County, we must compete with other metropolitan areas for top dollars.”
He continued, “Yes, St. Vincent’s won; yes, the city won. But winning by virtue is a fleeting experience… We’ll return in less than a year for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.”
The name of the building had yet to be unveiled until the ceremony. And for good reason.
When former St. Vincent de Paul executive director Lynn Peterson, who kick-started Kootenai County’s only 811 project before retiring last year, saw the plaque, a look of shock spread across her face.
“Welcome to the future home of The Lynn Peterson House” the sign read.
“You started this thing, this is your house,” said Conroy during the presentation. “Lynn, thank you so much.”
Bloem later added, “This is so well, well deserved. You’ve (Peterson) been an angel in this community for a very long time, and will continue to be for a long time to come.”
Peterson, still stunned after the dirt had been dumped and the crowd had left, managed only a few words. “This is absolutely amazing,” she said. “I am really speechless.”
The 15-unit building is just the first phase in St. Vincent de Paul’s several-year-long development plans. Next year, a 37-room, three-story apartment complex for low-income seniors will be built adjacent to the Lynn Peterson House. An application process will be held to determine the tenants.