Community Organization Spotlight: RCI Village
RCI Village, a community-supported affordable housing initiative that provides permanent rental housing for very low-income, formerly homeless, and socially disadvantaged residents of Allentown, has officially opened its doors with 13 initial residences. At the same time, plans to expand the program to provide permanent housing security to up to 50 individuals or family units during the next five years have been propelled with a $105,000 grant from The Rider-Pool Foundation.
Beyond housing, the RCI Village supports residents through individualized staff support, service partnerships, and community building opportunities, all of which contribute to a healthy, stable life. The RCI Village is modeled after the successful Jubilee Housing program in Washington, DC. and is located at the former Stephens Funeral Home property on Linden Street in Allentown.
Executive Director of Ripple Community Inc., Sherri Brokopp Binder, PhD, says “There is a crisis around homelessness in Allentown, but the only real solution to homelessness is permanent housing. As an organization, our work is focused on community building and ensuring that our most vulnerable neighbors have safe and supportive long-term housing.” The services available to residents of the RCI Village address common causes of housing instability, and include help with budgeting, personal goal-setting, and social support, and connections to services for financial literacy, mental and physical health services, employment, and job training.
Binder says joining these services in the organization is a purposeful effort toward the goal of seeing residents able to pay their rent and still have at least 20% of their income for other living expenses. “That additional 20% to live is what we refer to as the ‘rent reasonable threshold,’” she explains. “Our ultimate goal is stability. When other services are in motion, individuals and families have a chance at basic housing stability, and that will reflect in all other areas of their lives.”
It is that full picture scope that drew the attention of The Rider-Pool Foundation. “The RCI Village, at this launching stage, encompasses multiple elements of The Foundation’s focus areas,” Edward F. Meehan, MPH, says. “We saw the potential effects of safe, stable housing in this model as an important addition – and a complement – to other efforts within the city.”
RCI Village has received support from multiple other sources in the area, a fact which Binder says has been integral to their progress. “Three years ago, we had $400 in a checking account,” she says. “Support from the community has taken us this far. Now, the grant from The Rider-Pool Foundation is a real statement of trust and endorsement not just of who we are, but of how we are operating, and the way we see change happening for vulnerable populations of Allentown.” When she recalls that original bank balance, she says The Rider-Pool Foundation grant is not just game-changing money, but is also a game-changing opportunity to think strategically and take plans forward.
Meehan agrees with that assessment and believes the new grant is a catalyst for program strategy. He confirms the grant is intended to accelerate the organization’s work by supporting board development, fundraising and strategic planning; resident support services, including financial literacy, employment support, social capital, and transportation; and increased program capacity to support additional residents, including staffing a Resident Life Service Coordinator.
Ripple Community Inc. (RCI) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that emerged from the work of Ripple Church, an urban Anabaptist faith community. Since 2011, Ripple Church has worked with people who are on the margins of society in Allentown to restore critical relationships, build community, and address material and relational needs. RCI was founded in 2015 to take the work of Ripple Church into the broader community. Binder, the founding Executive Director, is also a member of the 2018-2019 cohort of The Collective Impact Fellowship, a program through The Rider-Pool Foundation to promote capacity building as a strategy to address complex social issues.
An investor purchased the former Stephens Funeral Home property on Linden Street in September of 2018 with the intent to lease the property to RCI, securing the space as the new home of the organization. In addition to the 13 apartments that are the basis of the RCI Village housing program, the space will also house RCI’s offices and Community Building Center, a day center that has served marginalized residents of the city since 2015.
Goals for the program have been identified that, if achieved over the next five years, will help ensure that the RCI Village can meet the needs of the community for years to come. Milestones among these goals include achieving a low 15% turnover rate among residents; demonstrated regular involvement in RCI’s Community Building Center and service opportunities by all residents; securing additional properties with opportunity for at least eight three-bedroom apartments for families with children; and building the Board of Directors, community partnerships, and a sustainable revenue stream.
The Rider-Pool Foundation’s intent is to serve as a means to improve the quality of life in the community, to build on the community’s strengths and add to its vitality, and to increase the capacity of the community to serve the needs of all its citizens. The Trustees of The Foundation have carried forth Dorothy Rider Pool’s wishes and are particularly sensitive to her interests in education, disadvantaged children, and the development of future leadership in our society.