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Partnership makes apartments into homes for Safelight clients

A ministry of First United Methodist Church, the Fifth Avenue Apartments now provide affordable housing for clients of Safelight A ministry of First United Methodist Church, the Fifth Avenue Apartments now provide affordable housing for clients of Safelight

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About a year ago, Amy Treece, Sarah Grymes and Tanya Blackford hatched an idea to rehabilitate a vacant apartment building for clients of Safelight, the domestic violence shelter.
“Amy contacted me and said we’d like to meet and we’ve got an idea,” said Gary Lambert, chair of the Board of Trustees of First United Methodist Church.
“When you get Tanya and Sarah together there’s quite a bit of enthusiasm. There was great synergy from the beginning.”
That synergy resulted in a four-way partnership of the church, Safelight, where Blackford is executive director and Treece is a board member, the Community Foundation of Henderson County and Housing Assistance Corp., which Grymes leads.
The apartment building “had been struggling” since the church bought it in 1999, Lambert said, and for a while church leaders thought the best use for the property might be a parking lot.
“Sarah stepped up with Housing Assistance and said, ‘We could help,’” Lambert said. “Housing Assistance did most of the heavy construction.” Aside from that, “It’s just been a lot of volunteers involved.”
The building contains four two-bedroom and four one-bedroom apartments. The property is next to a community garden that grows produce for IAM and Safelight and is open to apartment tenants.
All the tenants pay rent, either through their own income or with government assistance.
“They are regular units that are for rent and we just help place families that are ready and have been through some aspect of our services,” Blackford said. “They’re paid for either through jobs or they have a Section 8 voucher. Affordable housing is certainly needed in our community. There’s a huge shortfall of units and it makes it really hard for long-term success because of that stability issue. For health and education and children’s wellbeing, being in a safe affordable place is critical.”
The four-way partnership is one solution that could be repeated, she added.
“Our best way to address our affordable housing issue is through creative partnerships,” she said. “We’ve got some great affordable housing providers
already so what we need now are those partnerships that make that difference.”
The clients who have moved in are “everybody that you can imagine, moms with kids, single women, women without children (from) any area of our service,” she said.
It’s gratifying to see the units become a home, Lambert and Blackford said.
“Our first clients went in in August,” Lambert said. “Tanya was telling me back in March and April that the first four (chosen to move in) have already got some of their boxes packed.”
Blackford confirmed the story.
“I think it is obvious that they were built with love and the people that are living there are thrilled to be a part of it,” she said. “I pass them every day because they’re on my way home and they’re beautiful, fenced with gardens. It’s totally changed that corner.”
First United Methodist Church in partnership with Safelight will celebrate the opening of the Fifth Avenue Apartments at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17. The “Fifth Avenue Apartment Renovation Project,” a ministry of FUMC, was also supported by Appalachian Restoration and Cleaning, Camp Tekoa campers, Entegra Bank, Holbart Tree Service, Interfaith Assistance Ministry, Morris Broadband,, Roofing by Joe, Salvation Army, St. James Carpenters Club, St. Vincent’s Ministry, The Garage on 25 andWestern Carolina Community Action.