COLUMBIA — On Thursday, Regional AIDS Interfaith Network of Central Missouri opened up its $1.2 million Waterbrook Place Apartments in an effort to expand affordable housing options to its low-income clients.
RAIN is central Missouri’s primary HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C counseling, housing and advisement center. Its executive director, Cale Mitchell, said thinking of housing as health care provides clients with comprehensive support and healthy environments designed to improve physical and emotional health.
“We can ensure those individuals that their physical space can be maintained so they can focus on their individual health,” Mitchell said. “Persons who have difficulty maintaining or owning housing when looking at their health profiles are typically sicker more often. They have higher viral loads and lower CD4 counts.”
The opening of Waterbrook is the culmination of three years of work by RAIN, which received funding for the project from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Missouri Housing Development Commission and the Federal Home Loan Bank. Members of RAIN, Columbia Housing Authority, HUD and the Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors were in attendance for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Move-in began Friday with two confirmed tenants while one other awaits lease finalizations. RAIN confirmed that it already has five more applicants on its waiting list. Each unit contains new household appliances, and rent runs at $122 per month with HUD picking up the remaining utilities.
With a total of 7,160 square feet on two lots, the six one-bedroom and two two-bedroom units of Waterbrook join RAIN’s Stonecreek four-plex as another opportunity to provide affordable housing to clients. Its location along Garth Avenue and Worley Street, which puts the complex close to the Boone County Health Department and the bus line, “couldn’t be better,” said RAIN’s housing coordinator Ken Cissna, who worked with community development officials for more than six months looking for the right location.
Cissna oversaw the construction process and helped write the HUD grant for the project, which he believes is essential to RAIN’s mission.
“If our clients do not have a clean, stable place to live, their health care will suffer from that,” Cissna said, adding that it also feeds into one of RAIN’s overarching goals of moving rural clients into urban areas to meet their needs.
Along with the need for affordable housing, Mitchell said that many of the individuals they see require medical care, mental health care and treatment for substance abuse. Mitchell hopes that the Waterbrook apartments will help stabilize all three.
Doorways, a St. Louis-area organization that has provided housing options for HIV-affected populations for 20 years, was also involved with RAIN in the Waterbrook project. Matt Teter, Doorways’ director of development and communications, said Doorways provided RAIN with advice and resources in capacity building and pre-development.
“We are engaged in this work because we believe housing is a human right,” Teter said. “We and society have an obligation to provide housing.”
Teter also sees the need for continual support for clients.
“You can’t just take an individual or a family and say, ‘Here you go.’ Many require basic support services or taught how to maintain their homes,” Teter said.
Mitchell sees Waterbrook as a benefit to Columbia’s urban area.
“It’s nice to be able to turn a vacant lot and a vacant house and make it into sustainable housing to give back to the First Ward,” he said.