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August 08. 2013 8:27PM

20-unit West Side apartment building may house mentally ill

MANCHESTER — Housing Authority officials have proposed building 20 apartments on the West Side that would be dedicated for mentally ill tenants, the first such housing project in the city.

The structure would differ from traditional group homes, which are under the supervision of an on-site manager, said Ken Snow, vice president of community relations for the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester.

No such manager would be in place at the apartments, although the agency would provide services there from time to time, Snow said.

"We're looking at people who have clearly established the ability to live independently," said Snow. The Mental Health Center is partnering with Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority to build the apartments.

Plans call for tearing down the old West Side Lumber Mill at 168 South Main St. The mill borders the Piscataquog River and currently houses the OPUS consignment shop. The two-story structure would be built on the natural slope, with the bottom 10 apartments entered at the river level and the top 10 apartment entered from the street level.

Each unit will have a single bedroom with a kitchen, living room and bathroom, said Dick Webster, housing development manager for MHRA. The project will also include an office and community room that the Mental Health Center will be able to use.

Snow said most of the would-be tenants now live in substandard housing or are doubling up with friends or family. Others have gone through the mental-health system, succeeded, and then left a group home for dilapidated housing. Some work part-time jobs or in supportive employment, he said.

"Most are going to be living in less-than-adequate circumstances," Snow said.

At a location with people suffering from similar illnesses, they will be able to make connections and participate in programs, he said.

"We'd like to see more options for independent living such as this," he said.

Webster said the project will cost about $4 million to develop. The MHRA hopes to use revolving federal home money that the city controls, tax credit financing, Federal Home Loan Bank financing and bank loans to finance the project, Webster said.

"There's no federal money for new housing production," said Dick Dunfey, executive director of the Housing Authority. "We have to assemble a Dagwood sandwich of financing to build new housing."

He said this would be the fifth such project of the MHRA. Others are the Mary Gale Home, the Brown Avenue School and two phases of the Laurette Sweeney Apartments.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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