Howdy, Bismarck! First Porter Place open house is perfect chance to meet new neighbors

It had all of the ingredients of a good neighborhood block party: a perfect summer evening, families, neighbors, hot dogs, lemonade, lots of good conversation – and a welcome absence of mosquitoes.

Our first Porter Place open house in Bismarck was the ideal opportunity to meet the neighborhood, offer tours of the affordable housing facility and connect with the residents living at this property at 1100 East Boulevard Avenue. Recently, LSS Housing and Community Works North Dakota, an affordable housing lender, announced plans to form a partnership to assume ownership of the facility, which was previously owned and operated by Ruth Meiers Hospitality House (RMHH).

The June 25 gathering was the first in a series of neighborhood open houses which will give Bismarck-Mandan residents a chance to meet LSS Housing and Property Management staff, let them hear about our plans for the property and reinforce our core mission: Housing First. What's Housing First? In a nutshell: If someone wants to work their way out of poverty, it helps greatly if they have basic needs such as reliable housing met first.

We didn’t have an official head count for last Thursday's event, but there was a nice, steady flow of people coming and going throughout the three-hour event. If food is any indicator, we served more than 150 hot dogs and nearly 200 bars and cookies (although it’s safe to say that very few of us had only one cookie!)

The open house also presented the perfect opportunity for LSS staff who don’t live in

Bismarck to see the project up close. When he wasn’t manning the grill, Brent Ekstrom, executive director of CommunityWorks North Dakota, offered us a quick tour of the Porter Place grounds, which include renovation of an affordable housing wing on the west end of the lot and a separate apartment building with a very midcentury motel-looking façade. Brent told us the goal is to update and exteriors and interiors of these spaces as needed.

A few interesting facts from the night:

  • The original building was completed in 1948 to be used as the Baptist Home long-term care facility; multiple additions were built, with the last one completed in 1987.

  • The former owners made many important infrastructure upgrades to this well-built structure after they purchased it in 2013. Important systems like the HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems have been updated.

  • The former transitional units in the existing facility were dormitory-style – large spaces intended to accommodate multiple beds in one room. As part of the next phase of renovation, that will be undertaken by LSS and CWND, these areas will be transformed into individual apartments, in hopes of bringing the total number of available units from 85 to 106.

  • If all goes as hoped, LSS plans to enhance the grounds with public art and more green spaces. The Capitol District is a very pretty neighborhood, with well-maintained homes and beautiful, mature trees, and we want to be an aesthetic asset to the overall neighborhood.

Why permanent housing?

The thought behind converting Porter Place’s transitional housing into permanent affordable housing is that it gives residents the security of a permanent home right away, rather than placing them in transitional housing and then, a few months later, uprooting them again to move into a more permanent arrangement.

LSS CEO Jessica Thomasson says Porter Place’s trained staff will work closely with residents to help them adjust to paying the monthly rent of permanent housing vs. the more frequent rent of transitional housing.

Our philosophy fits in with the Housing First model: the sooner residents can have basic needs such as housing security met, the sooner they can turn their attention to other matters to improve their lives, such as finding reliable transportation or landing a better job

. We want Porter Place residents to be successful in their move to secure housing, so we will provide a variety of “wrap-around” services – ranging from help finding child care to mental-health referrals – to support them.

Inside Porter Place

Throughout the evening, staff provided tours of two Porter Place apartments. They were light, bright, clean and surprisingly spacious. The bathrooms are handicap-accessible. Although it wasn’t on the tour, we learned one of the family apartments is a sprawling 1,600-square feet!

The second-floor efficiency we toured was so cute and charmingly decorated that several of us said we would happily move right in. The hallway, laundry rooms and public spaces were neat-as-a-pin and smelled like cherry air freshener.

It was also exciting to see what a large and beautiful commercial kitchen this facility has. We hope to recruit culinary-minded volunteers and residents to help with cookie-baking for future open houses!

Our staff unofficially decided that the best place on the grounds is an awning-covered bench area, positioned right by the elevated flower beds on the south side of the building. One staffer said she would like to make this garden spot her “touch-down” work area whenever she’s in Bismarck for business.

Howdy, neighbor!

The neighbors who dropped by were curious … and neighborly! They asked about future

plans for the complex (expanded affordable housing), how many staff would work there (three to four, plus volunteers), the condition of the building (very good, with lots of potential), whether the purchase was final (not yet, but we’re hoping!), and how long renovations would take (at least 18 months).

We met the president of the Bismarck-Mandan Apartment Association, who happens to manage an apartment complex just half a block away. He praised the neighborhood and offered help if ever needed.

One young woman and her family suggested to our Housing Director Paulette Paulson that there should be an all-faiths service held there to help neighbors get to know each other better and to welcome Porter Place into the fold. What a great idea. We heartily agree!

Lutheran support

We so appreciated the representatives from local Lutheran churches who stopped by! Pastor Craig Schweitzer, senior pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and a member of the LSS Housing Board of Directors, was there to lend his support, as was Pastor Renae Splichal Larson from Heart River. First Lutheran Church’s pastor couldn’t make it, but they still sent a representative who dropped by to say hello and ask if we needed anything. So nice to feel such welcome and support!

A place for families

While most of the apartments are smaller, there are a few families already living here. On the day of the open house, a family of six children dropped by the office. Wet-haired and laughing, they reported just returning from the Hillside Aquatics Complex in Lions Park down the street. This good-natured bunch agreed to wear LSS Housing T-shirts during the open house, which added a lively dash of color during the festivities. They were a charming and well-mannered group, plunking down companionably beside us at the picnic table. I overheard one younger brother admonishing his older brother for taking more than one cookie. When I told them there were plenty of cookies, the rule follower scampered over to the food line and got another cookie – healthful oatmeal raisin! Wow! So much better-behaved than we were at that age!

As we talked about plans for the facility, one of the residents approached our CEO Jessica Thomasson to discuss ways we could improve the landscaping. He is a gardener himself and volunteered to help spiff up the grounds. It was pretty inspiring to see how residents take such pride of ownership in the place where they live! All in all, we could not have asked for a better night.

Thanks for coming out, everyone!

Read more about this project HERE.

If you live in the Bismarck area, we hope you’ll be able to visit our next open house, tentatively scheduled for the third week in July. Watch our website and social media for details!

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