The city wants to rezone 11 parcels at the intersection of Shelby and East Georgia streets on the southeast edge of downtown Indianapolis to build a “housing hub” that will include the city’s first low-barrier homeless shelter.
Officials with Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration explained the plan Wednesday evening to a crowded room, including many neighbors, at the Southeast Community Services building on Shelby Street, less than a mile from the proposed development.
The city acquired the land several months ago for $2.1 million and wants to build a 24-hour center to address the needs of families and individuals facing homelessness or housing instability. The development would straddle East Georgia Street on the western side of Shelby Street.
“This facility that we’re planning is going to help fill the gaps in our current system to solve for homelessness,” said Andrew Merkley, administrator for the city’s Division of Homelessness and Eviction Prevention.
The proposed complex, which has not yet been completely designed, is expected to be about 90,000 square feet and include 50 apartments, an emergency shelter with an undetermined number of beds, restrooms and shower facilities, a health center for wound care and other medical needs, offices for case management and social services, and a parking lot.
The development is about three blocks from IndyGo’s planned Blue Line bus rapid transit on Washington Street, which could help homeless people get around town, Merkley said.
The site is intended to become a “housing hub” that would centralize city resources for neighbors experiencing homelessness. The “low barrier” would have few restrictions for people seeking housing. Many shelters turn away those with criminal histories, enforce strict rules and separate families, partners or pets.
The parcels are currently zoned industrial, and the Hogsett administration plans to ask the city’s zoning office and City-County Council to approve a rezoning to “commercial special.” The city wants to develop the land in partnership with Indianapolis-based not-for-profit Rdoor Housing Corp. (formerly Merchants Affordable Housing Corp.), an affordable housing developer.
The rezoning process is likely to take 90 to 120 days and will include a public hearing. Rdoor hopes to break ground on the site by next summer, and the construction will take 18 to 24 months, said Bryan Conn, vice president of development for Rdoor.
The site would be managed by an outside company that has not yet been chosen.
Conn said the development likely would not lead to decreased property values nearby. To back that up, he said his firm examined the surrounding property values of Wheeler Mission’s $13 million, 44,200-square-foot expansion in 2021 at its Center for Women & Children on the northwest corner of East Michigan Street and North LaSalle Street, immediately next to its 10-story building.
The firm pulled property-sale records in a one-quarter mile radius of the Wheeler development for a three-year period before and another three-year period after the project. What they found was the property values actually increased during that period, although a little bit less than Marion County average property sales prices overall.
“The point is not that we think this development will lead to some increase in property values specifically because of the project, but that it does not necessarily mean that property values will decrease because this development happens,” Conn said.
More than 20 people in the audience spoke after the presentation, most of them in favor of the project.
Laney Glick, who lives about a block and a half from the site, said she often walks by the property on her way to work at Second Helpings, a hunger-relief agency, and sees the need for more help for homeless people.
“I see people sleeping in bushes on my walk,” she said. “I already see trash and needles, which is what I’ve heard is a concern. Giving these people a place to just be is so beautiful and so important. I just can’t imagine placing property values over human lives.”
Jared Loper, who lives in St. Clair Place on the near-east side, said he supported the plan because the need is so great.
“This is actually really thrilling for us to see … because we have nothing but gaps for unhoused folks here,” he said. “This is great. This is fantastic.”
John MaVris, who owns a house that abuts the proposed site, said he often donates food and money to homeless people in the area, but he is concerned about a large new project for a new housing hub. He said he has owned houses on nearby Georgia Street, and one was broken into three times, with people sleeping in the house. The fourth time, he found a campfire in the basement of the house.
He asked why city officials bought the property without talking to neighbors first. “I’m a believer in community, and I think you let me down,” he said.
Darrell Mitchell, executive director of Progress House, an alcohol and drug recovery residence on Shelby Street near the site, said he understood the uncertainty and fear surrounding the project.
“I would encourage everybody to try to, instead of persuading, to listen and to learn. … And there is an opportunity for us to figure out what’s best for everybody.”
The presentation was hosted by Southeast Neighborhood Development, a not-for-profit community development corporation that advocates for housing, economic and social equity.
Brittany Crone, director of community outreach for Mayor Joe Hogsett’s Office, encouraged the audience to keep asking questions and to learn more about the proposal.
“No matter where you land on your opinion of what the project is, we’re grateful to have this opportunity to meet with you all, to share what we know and to hear your questions,” she said.