By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
On an August afternoon, Ashley Velez shows a visitor an affordable apartment in a newly remodeled fourplex built in 1937 in Davenport. Sunshine streams through the windows in the airy living room and the refinished wood floor gleams.
Velez is executive director of Humility Homes and Services (HHSI), a Davenport-based nonprofit founded by the Congregation of the Humility of Mary to end homelessness by offering housing opportunities and supportive services in the community. Affordable housing is a critical need throughout the Diocese of Davenport and the nation. The Quad Cities Housing Cluster reports a gap of around 6,645 affordable units for households in the Quad Cities alone (August 2020).
HHSI builds relationships through collaboration, the foundation of its vision to ensure “a home for every person.” This year, HHSI has added 22 new units of affordable housing by collaborating with benefactors and with another nonprofit organization that provides job-training skills in construction for individuals striving to put their lives in order.
“Our overall goal is to add 84 units within five years to the 50 we already owned and we have added 22. We’re trying to create another 20 units of permanent, supportive housing for single individuals and 15 supportive housing units for families,” Velez said. “We are also looking to expand our mark on the Quad Cities by ensuring we are providing services and rentals on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. We are also looking to expand our services more into the Clinton area where we already have successful veteran programming.”
HHSI purchased the fourplex through the generosity of the Lynne O’Toole Trust and with the help of St. Ambrose University, which previously owned the building and used it as an art school, Velez said. A connection between a Humility sister and the founder of the Ryan Foundation of Omaha led to additional funding for the HHSI mission to create affordable housing. Wayne Ryan, who founded the foundation with his wife, Eileen, was a former classmate of Sister Miriam Anstey, who this year celebrates her 75th anniversary as a member of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary. Sister Mary Ann Vogel, the congregation’s president, and Sister Anstey met with Wayne Ryan some years ago. After he died in 2017, family members found a napkin on which he had written a note to support the sisters in their affordable housing efforts, Sister Vogel recalled.
With funding from the Ryan Foundation, HHSI purchased eight units of affordable housing in Rock Island and Moline, Illinois. Two tenants were already living in the fiveplex in Rock Island and will continue to do so. “We are not raising their rent as we are preserving the units of affordable housing,” Velez said. Preservation of housing is one of six strategies in the “Silos to Solution Plan,” a long-term vision of the Quad Cities Housing Cluster to address affordable housing needs.
Another connection — and an example of collaboration — led to HHSI acquiring a sixplex in Davenport. Jim and Val Mientus, who owned the sixplex, moved to Florida and wanted to be sure their Davenport property would be used for affordable housing. “Jim and Val are supporters of Humility Homes and are on the Board of Community Resources Corporation, which invests in housing-related needs in the community,” Velez said.
Purchasing property is one element of creating affordable housing. Renovation is another element, and HHSI has collaborated extensively with the nonprofit organization One Eighty, which “exists to bring hope, love and opportunity to people and communities impacted by crisis, poverty, or addiction” (oneeighty.org).
For the Davenport fourplex project, “We gave Rusty (Boruff, One Eighty’s executive director) our budget and asked, ‘Can you make it work?’ We like to work with One Eighty,” Velez said, because its small staff, many volunteers and residential program participants “are giving back to the community. It’s the story of two nonprofits with similar missions — creating a better vision for housing in the Quad Cities.”
“One Eighty and Humility have always had a great working relationship. It goes beyond a working relationship because I believe we are two nonprofits who truly care about the people we serve and the community in this area,” said Boruff, One Eighty’s founder.
“We work in harmony, meaning we have the same end goal, just playing a different instrument in the orchestra.”
“We were intentional about that; when we started 12 years ago, I spent a lot of time learning what the nonprofits do in this community, and identifying gaps. I didn’t want to duplicate what anyone did. We specialize in long-term results, meaning we are a 14-month program for people with strong addictions, coming out of domestic/sexual abuse and trafficking, or incarceration.”
Part of One Eighty’s 14-month residential program provides career training for the residents. “Our partnership with HHSI gives us a safe, consistent relationship that helps with that career training that is near our home base of Sixth and Marquette streets. It’s literally a win-win hopefully for Humility but also for us,” Boruff said. “Additionally, our partnership is changing this community. It’s beautifying the area and investing dollars and energy into this central city community. Lastly, it shows that nonprofits can work together.”
Rental rates for HHSI affordable housing
Humility Homes and Services Inc. (HHSI) provides affordable housing in the Quad Cities because of its commitment to ensure that every person has a home. “Most of our units, not one-bedrooms, are at least 10% below Fair Market Rate,” said Velez. “Our units start at $212.50 a month and go up to $900 with all utilities including. It is dependent on size, but we have single room occupancies up to three bedrooms,” she said.
For more information about affordable housing through HHSI, visit humilityhomes.org or call (563) 326-1330.