Hosanna Community gets housing assistance

One of the residences at the Hosanna Community is photographed on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Sometimes, Hosanna Community Executive Director Susan DiStefano sleeps at her job to provide 24-hour care to residents with brain injuries. She doesn't have the budget to pay anyone else to do it.

For years, the nonprofit organization has been at the mercy of fundraisers, churches, private donors and grants to keep operating.

This month, the Chattanooga Housing Authority provided the Hosanna Community with help.

Housing officials gave the community 17 project-based vouchers that will pay rent for low-income people who live there. And if a person lives there for a year and relocates while in good standing, CHA will give the resident a mobile voucher to assist with rent when he or she relocates.

photo Board chairman Suzanne Barels (CQ) and CEO Susan DiStefano, right, of the Hosanna Community are interviewed at the facility on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.
photo Susan Evans sits in a chair in her room in one of the residences at the Hosanna Community on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. She has been a resident at Hosanna House for 18 years. At right is her braille Bible.
photo Linda Crane plays solitaire in the living room area of one of the residences at the Hosanna Community on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. She has been a resident at Hosanna House for 11 years.

The vouchers mean about $60,000 a year coming from the housing authority to the Hosanna Community for up to 15 years. The $60,000 is in addition to any money Hosanna Community collects from tenants for rent.

"It's going to take a lot of pressure off," said Suzanne Barels, president of the Hosanna Community's board of directors. She was on hand to support DiStefano as she discussed the vouchers Monday.

All 15 of the tenants in the Hosanna Community will have to apply for a voucher, but most will qualify, DiStefano said. Two more rooms are available, she said.

Social Security disability is the income of many of the residents, and some residents don't have that, Barels said.

A Harvest for Hope fundraiser in October and an increased amount of year-end donations helped the nonprofit finish 2015 in the black. That wasn't the case for 2014, DiStefano said.

She hopes money from the housing authority will provide more financial stability. Her first goal is to pay bills, and then to invest in staffing, she said.

DiStefano and Assistant Director Katie Walters slept on-site all most every night last summer to ensure 24-hour service to residents. DiStefano wants to be able to pay staff to work those hours.

She also wants more case management to help residents remember doctor and dental appointments, and more educational activities for residents, like workshops on nutrition, she said.

CHA Executive Director Betsy McCright said the housing agency looks to partner with good property owners like Hosanna Community. She said the partnership brings the housing authority closer to fully using all of its vouchers so it may be fully funded.

The Hosanna Community spreads across 7.5 acres off Grubb Road in Hixson and includes a house for arts and crafts, a community garden, an exercise room and pool table. Each tenant has his or her own room and shares a bathroom with one person of the same sex.

The community is made of adults with disabilities who may come and go as they please, but also benefit from a safety net of staff who help them stay on routine, provide transportation and meals.

Michael Bishop, a Hosanna resident of one year, said he appreciates assistance from the housing authority.

His parents have paid his rent since he's lived there.

"It takes the burden off them," he said.

Nancy Crane wished she could live alone, but said a fall down a flight of stairs in 2001 left her with a brain injury, a stroke and family who prefers she live with the assistance offered at Hosanna Community.

The best part about the site are the friends you meet while living there, she said.

"I want my own place," Crane said. "But I like the company here."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.