Written by the Canton Repository Editorial Board

January 3, 2018

It is said that when something appears too good to be true, it probably is.
But an idea Stark Metropolitan Housing Authority is promulgating — turning a long-vacant building into housing that would fill a gap in the local safety net — sounds to us like a no-lose proposition.
Anyone who has traveled between downtown Canton and the Aultman Hospital area using Sixth Street SW, or headed south from downtown along McKinley Avenue, has seen the former Wells School building. It sits on the southwest corner of those streets and is in a state of depressing disrepair, many of its windows broken — several not even boarded over.
One can only imagine the condition inside, where a decade of inactivity has allowed exposure to the elements to take a toll.
Where most see decay, however, SMHA and potential partners from Cleveland with experience in creating affordable housing see opportunity.
SMHA, which obtained the building in 2012 from Canton City School District, has proposed converting the former elementary school (and later administration building) into housing units and community space. As Canton Repository staff writer Kelly Byer reported Tuesday, preference would be given to people who are homeless, mentally or physically abused, disabled, extremely low income, youth transitioning from foster care or families who can be unified through housing.
The housing authority has tried to develop the property in years past, but the price tag — estimated now at about $10 million — couldn’t be overcome. Enter two groups from Cleveland: CHN Housing Partners and HDS Architecture.
CHN Housing Partners serves 30,000 families annually through nearly “20 housing stability services,” according to its website, which also includes this mission-type statement: “Every year, millions of people look for ways to move out of poverty. … By investing in affordable housing, we are investing in families, communities and the economy.”
SMHA said that in addition to the housing units — so desperately needed in our community for the populations that would be served — it also intends to provide on-site services for residents.

Homeless Continuum of Care of Stark County estimates 37 people were living on the streets and more than 400 people lived in emergency shelters or transitional housing in the county in 2016. We suspect the actual homeless number far exceeds three dozen. Is anyone really equipped to survive days and nights like we’ve experienced this past week without proper shelter?
In other words, there would be no problem filling any and all available housing units of this type.
The housing partners plan to apply for a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, which CHN has utilized on several of its completed projects. Other tax credits are being sought as well.
Ashley Wright, planning and development manager for SMHA, said if funding is secured in the coming year, construction could begin in mid-spring of 2019 and be completed about a year later.
So what’s the next step?
SMHA has requested a zone change, from single-family housing to planned multi-family residential, for the McKinley Avenue SW location of the old Wells building, a request the city’s Planning Commission recommended for City Council approval. Council has not scheduled a vote.
When it does, we hope council members keep in mind the words of a physician who deals in public health. She called affordable housing “the first vaccine” in ensuring healthy people and communities.
We see no downside in moving forward with SMHA’s plan.