HAMMOND — You don’t have to be an expectant couple seeking shelter in Bethlehem to appreciate good, affordable housing. Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and fellow members of the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority board witnessed and heard about that firsthand.

Crouch is chairwoman of the IHCDA board, which met Thursday at Silver Birch of Hammond, an assisted senior living facility that opened earlier this year and benefited from state financial aid. Following the meeting, the board toured the facility and talked to residents.

Dennis Sellers, a 50-year Hammond resident, said he had little freedom of movement in his previous residence. He even had to throw keys from a window to admit visitors. “I felt stuck in a prison, with no way out,” said Sellers, happy that he now can go outside and take walks.

Describing Silver Birch staff and facilities as “angels sent by God, a prayer come true,” Sellers said the facility “saved my life and changed my life tremendously.”

Touring the four-story facility, Crouch also met William Tatum, who had been living in a downtown Hammond hotel. Thanks to the move, Tatum said, he’s eating regularly and gaining weight.

“This is the best place I’ve ever stayed in my life,” Tatum said.

The IHCDA provides housing opportunities and promotes self-sufficiency while developing sustainable quality of life for all Hoosiers in the community of their choice.

By the board's alternating meeting sites, Crouch said, “It’s important for members to be able to see what their actions are resulting in. It’s also an opportunity to visit these communities for seniors who need assistance. For some of these seniors, things are very tough.”

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It’s “extremely important” for the board to go on the road to see communities around the state, Crouch said.

“It’s also important to hear the stories of the people who have been helped,” Crouch, the former state auditor, said. “Board members get to see their actions are making a difference in people’s lives.”

Silver Birch, which opened in May, serves low-income tenants. Of the 125 apartments, 65 are currently filled, said Dave Cocagne, chairman of Silver Birch and CEO of Vermilion Development, which developed the property and seven similar facilities in Indiana and one in Illinois.

These projects represent an investment of $180 million, with the Hammond site valued at $23 million. The IHCDA awarded tax credits and provided activity bonds for the Hammond facility.

During the board meeting, approval was given for housing projects in Lafayette and the east side of Indianapolis. That same day, Vermilion broke ground for a residential facility in Fort Wayne.

Jacob Sipe, executive director of IHCDA, commented, “We’re positively impacting people’s lives.”

In recent years, Indiana has seen a 38 percent reduction in chronic homelessness and a decrease in individuals needing emergency services, Sipe said. Sipe credited the reduced numbers to the state's forming partnerships with care providers, along with mentoring programs.

After walking through Silver Birch and seeing its amenities, Crouch said, “My mother died earlier this year, and I wish we would have had something like this for her.”

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