As Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius put it nearly 2000 years ago: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
In March 2020, Roof Above – our team and those we serve – faced impediments all around us. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Roof Above immediately recognized that how we sheltered people, fed people, and offered services had to change to keep those we serve and the community safe. We scoured our city for motel partners to offer the critical need of socially-distanced emergency shelter. It was in that pursuit that I first walked into a hotel at the intersection of Clanton Rd. and Interstate 77 in the spring of 2020. The hotel was facing its own impediments. Largely providing one-night stays to people passing through our community, the hotel was struggling given the steep drop off in travel.
Each organization was struggling with our own pandemic driven challenges. But, together, we found a new path forward. Several weeks later, Roof Above was under contract to purchase the hotel – first to temporarily use it to serve the community’s emergency shelter need and then to transform the hotel to a permanent supportive housing community. The new apartment community – SECU The Rise on Clanton – welcomed our first tenants last week.
Permanent Supportive Housing as a Solution to Chronic Homelessness
When we first walked into the hotel, Roof Above already had been pursuing a plan to create more Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH). Permanent Supportive Housing is the combination of affordable housing offered with robust support services, such as case management, health care services, and other housing stability supports. PSH was developed as a solution to chronic homelessness, to provide housing and appropriate support to those with disabling conditions who had persisted in homelessness at least a year or longer, often some of the most vulnerable people in our community. Ten years ago, Roof Above developed Moore Place, Charlotte’s first large-scale PSH community targeting chronic homelessness. Moore Place has seen success both in keeping people housed and significantly reducing tenants use of crisis services, such as hospitalizations, emergency room visits, MEDIC. We were in the process of searching for land to replicate Moore Place to build 75 new apartments when we walked into the hotel off Clanton Road. We realized, if we adapted the hotel to become PSH instead of building new apartments, we could have more apartments, in a better location, at a smaller price tag and do it all in a shorter time period.
Charlotte’s First Adaptive Reuse Permanent Supportive Housing Solution
SECU The Rise on Clanton is Charlotte’s first adaptive reuse permanent supportive housing solution. Adaptive reuse is the process of renovating buildings that have outlived their original purposes and modifying them for different functions.
Some of our learnings from taking on an adaptive reuse project:
To avoid uncertainty and controversy, Roof Above typically does not take on projects requiring re-zoning. This approach works well for hotels/motel conversions, because hotel/motels typically have zoning favorable for Single-Room Occupancy (SRO) housing, the zoning we typically use when developing PSH. While we ran into a slight issue on the addition of the support services wing, we were granted a zoning variance early in the process.
Adaptive re-use often opens up locations that might not be available for building new units. Located less than five miles from Uptown, SECU The Rise on Clanton is situated directly at a bus stop, walking distance to the light rail and a Family Dollar store, with quick public transportation access to a grocery store, drug store, park, YMCA, and health clinic. The back of the property is bordered by a residential neighborhood, lessening the sense of an institutional setting. When Roof Above was looking for land, correctly zoned, to build new, we had far more limitations.
Critical to our team was that the adaptation would transform the space to feel like an apartment and housing community and not a temporary hotel. We are so grateful for the services of Axiom Architecture who found creative ways to achieve this vision – adding a half wall between the sleeping area and living area, as well as the addition of a kitchen with a refrigerator that allows people to have a sense of permanency. To maximize all of the existing rooms for apartments, we turned part of the hotel’s parking lot into the foundation for a support service wing addition, to ensure we had enough space for our on-site case managers, full-time nurse, a learning lab, and community gathering space.
The downside of adapting existing spaces is that there is more uncertainty than when building new. The budget and timeline of our SECU The Rise on Clanton project grew when we had the unwelcome surprise of mold and moisture issues that were not identified during our due diligence process. We took the time and made additional investments to address the issue to the full extent needed, but surprises are inevitable when taking on a renovation.
We are Stronger and Smarter Together
In Roof Above’s core values, we recognize that “We know we can’t do it alone. We are stronger and smarter together.” If we look around our community, we often find collaboration and partnership at the foundation of our successes. We are so grateful for the many people and organizations who stepped up to make this project a reality.
Don’t Give Up on Ending Chronic Homelessness
According to the latest Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing and Homelessness Dashboard, there are 422 people in Mecklenburg County experiencing chronic homelessness. We celebrate that over the course of the next several weeks, 88 people will move from chronic homelessness to housing through this new project. By replicating the success of previous projects, our community can come within grasp of ending chronic homelessness in our community.
Allow Impediments to Spur Action
Part of why “The Rise” is in the name of our new housing community, is because we believe this project is an example of our community rising to meet the challenges of the current moment. With the challenges of rising rents and increased land prices that our community is facing, we must look to see what already exists around us as creative solutions to our affordable housing crisis. As a community, let us take our collective frustration experienced over these last years and find ways to transform impediments to innovative solutions and new paths forward.
About the Author
Liz Clasen-Kelly serves as the CEO of Roof Above, the merged Men’s Shelter of Charlotte and Urban Ministry Center. She previously served as the Executive Director of the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, where she led the shelter’s effort to renovate its N. Tryon Campus. Previously, as the Associate Director of Urban Ministry Center, she oversaw the community’s street outreach efforts and served as project manager for the community effort to end chronic homelessness.
About Roof Above
Roof Above is an interfaith nonprofit with the mission of uniting the community to end homelessness, one life at a time. The organization was born from the merger of Urban Ministry Center and Men’s Shelter of Charlotte in May 2019. Roof Above’s vision is that every person has the safety, stability, and dignity of home. The organization operates a day services center, three year-round shelters, nearly 700 units of supportive housing, and a treatment program for substance use disorders.