When Kim Summerall-Wright took the reigns at the Casper Housing Authority in 2013, the entity tasked with addressing affordable housing in the city had five employees. Today there are 38.
“We are so different from what we used to be,” Wright said during an interview last week.
The housing authority recently submitted a new five-year plan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The federal agency mandates these plans from housing agencies across the country, but while the task is a governmental necessity, it’s also an opportunity for Wright and her team to look inward.
The team has set five goals for the next five years, and they’re already on their way to meeting some of them.
The first goal is to “preserve and increase housing opportunities.”
The group is overhauling its public housing program by building mixed-rate apartments under a new federal program. The first apartment complex, called the Raven Crest Apartments, officially opened in May.
That development is the first Wyoming project in HUD’s pilot Rental Assistance Demonstration program. Passed by Congress in 2012, the program leverages public and private funds to support public housing and give public housing authorities more leeway in maintaining properties and providing services to tenants.
The project is unique among public housing options in that it combines subsidized and unsubsidized units in the same complex. It gives the residents receiving housing vouchers some anonymity, Wright said, while also providing more workforce housing in the city.
Casper isn’t finished with the program. Wright said next, the group will build another complex similar to Raven Crest to consolidate the rest of the city’s public housing units. It would also be mixed-rate. The housing authority is still looking for funding for that project.
The housing authority is also well on its way to accomplishing its next goal, to “increase family self sufficiency opportunities.”
The group recently purchased the former North Casper Elementary school building. They plan to convert the building into the housing authority’s new headquarters, which is currently located at 145 N. Durbin Street. But that’s not all the building will host.
The housing authority also owns Kids Kampus, a child care center off Curtis Street between Interstate 25 and U.S. Highway 20. With the purchase of the school building, the housing authority plans to move the child care center into the school and double its capacity from 84 children to 168.
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The move also allows the housing authority to expand the day care’s hours into weeknights and weekends.
How does this contribute to the authority’s goal of promoting family self-sufficiency? It’s two-fold. The child care center is heavily relied upon by single mothers, Wright said. By extending the hours and the capacity, the group is able to help more people.
But the child care center is also an employer. The housing authority has adapted the child care center into a training program and is able to give employees a wide ranging education in everything from child care to nutrition.
Aside from the child care center, the school building will also house a training center that Wright hopes gets used by all of the city’s nonprofits, or other entities interested in renting the space.
While the training center’s exact uses won’t be determined until groups starting reserving the space, the housing authority has at least one class on the books.
Wright said the housing authority is partnering with the nonprofit Seton House to begin offering a self-sufficiency course called Connections to Success. The program helps families connect with needed resources while helping them plan for self-sufficiency.
The third and fourth goals the housing authority have set work somewhat in tandem. The agency hopes to bolster internal training and development while also expanding its community partnerships.
By expanding community partnerships and awareness, the agency is able to help more people, Wright explained. The entity’s already-established partnerships, with Habitat for Humanity, Seton House and other nonprofits, has already proven effective.
Through housing partnerships, the housing authority has facilitated home ownership for 29 families in the last five years, Wright said. They do this by connecting residents to other resources in the community while also helping them set goals and make plans for sticking to those goals.
While the housing authority has seen successes in recent years, Wright said this is only the beginning for the nonprofit.
She hopes to have the former Habitat for Humanity ReStore up and running soon. That store would sell home improvement items and housewares at a discounted rate. Wright said they’re ready to open the store but are still searching for a manager.
The housing authority is also hoping to expand its overall reach. Wright often points out that the housing authority, despite its growth, can only serve 1 percent of Casper’s population while 11 percent of the city’s population meets federal poverty guidelines.
“We’re not ready to stop yet,” she said.
Follow local government reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites