What happens to youth too old for foster care? Affordable housing project in Des Moines to provide an answer

Des Moines Register • November 29, 2020

A new 42-unit apartment building will provide affordable housing for young people who have aged out of foster care yet continue to need counseling services and support as they attend college. 

The Sixth Avenue Flats, to be built on a vacant lot at 1230 Sixth Ave. in Des Moines, is a partnership between Hatch Development Group, Kiernan Development and Youth & Shelter Services, a nonprofit organization that serves youth through mentorship programs, addiction recovery and crisis housing. 

YSS also serves as the lead agency of the Iowa Aftercare Services Network, a statewide program that provides support to young people between the ages of 18 and 23 who are too old to remain in foster care. 

The project will provide affordable housing, including loft space for residential and commercial use, for former foster children. It also will provide office space for YSS counseling services and, under a partnership with Des Moines Area Community College, academic and financial counseling.

DMACC, which currently enrolls 100 students who have aged out of foster care, is located just a half mile southwest of the development.

“Finding affordable housing to accommodate transition age homeless youth is tough, and then ensuring they have the transportation to connect with services and education adds to the complexity,” Andrew Allen, president and CEO of YSS, said in a news release. “This new project will simplify connecting these kids to safe and affordable housing, quality education and employment through the live-work lofts, three key factors to success.”

Jack Hatch, president and CEO of Hatch Development Group and a former state senator, said he’s hopeful the proximity to DMACC will help ensure tenants have access to higher education.

As a senator, Hatch helped develop the All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship program, which gives up to eight full-time semester scholarships to Iowa undergraduate students. It prioritizes financial aid to students who have aged out of the foster care system or the State Training School or were adopted from the foster care system after age 16. 

The maximum award amount varies each year; in 2020-21 it is $4,644 per student.

“Countless studies show that getting these vulnerable young people supportive services along with education and housing, increases their chances for long-term economic success, happiness and independence,” Hatch said in a news release.

The apartments, which include 36 units in the upper four stories and six live-work lofts on the street level, will be open to anyone who qualifies as a low-income resident, earning 60% of the area median income. 

But it’s likely the units will be filled by young adults transitioning from foster care. In 2019, YSS found housing for more than 200 young people who had aged out of the system and were facing homelessness, Allen said.

Rents will range from $550 for a one-bedroom unit to $650 for two bedrooms.

The live-work lofts on the ground floor will have street-level access, serving as commercial storefronts for the tenants who will live in the unit’s upper-story loft. It’s the same model as Hatch’s East Village Square project, 333 E. Grand Ave.

The $8.5 million project received financing through the Iowa Finance Authority’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credits program, with private investment from WNC, Inc. a California investment group.

Construction will begin in spring 2021 and the building is expected to open the following year.

Kim Norvell covers growth and development for the Register. Reach her at knorvell@dmreg.com or 515-284-8259. Follow her on Twitter @KimNorvellDMR.