HUD Grant to Turn Threatened Indiana House into Affordable Apartments

 

A historic house slated for demolition in Muncie, Indiana, is getting a second chance this month after government funds were set aside to restore the structure as affordable housing. The city awarded the 120-year-old Knoulton House in East Central Muncie's Emily Kimbrough Historic District $244,000 in U.S. Housing and Urban Development funds last July. The owner, Lew Beyers, says he will complete and submit construction permits later this month.

Beyers, an architect, bought the c. 1890 vernacular Victorian/Craftsman-style house almost four years ago after attending graduate school at Muncie's Ball State University. He always hoped to restore the property.

"I looked at it and thought hey, this is a great old house, it's got a lot of nice architectural detail and character," Beyers says. "I thought if I could get it for the right price it seems like a decent investment as something I could work on over time and try to bring it back."

But Beyers, who lives and works in Chicago, received a letter from Muncie's Unsafe Buildings Authority in November 2009 informing him that 911 E. Jackson Street, which sat vacant for at least 25 years before he took title, was one of dozens of structures tagged as unsafe and destined for the wrecking ball.

"We, like lots of Rust Belt cities big and small, have had an exodus of industry in Muncie," says city historic preservation officer Bill Morgan. "And along with that, a serious blight problem that we've been tackling very heavily."

Though Beyers' finances were limited, he expressed an interest in rehabilitating the structure, and submitted a proposal to restore the building as three affordable housing units. In July, Beyers secured the HUD grant as part of the agency's HOME Investment Partnerships Program. He plans to invest $10,000 in cash in the project and put forward a minimum of $45,000 of sweat equity for a complete restoration that will include rewiring, replumbing, refurbishing existing woodwork and floors, replacing parts of the roof, and installing three new HVAC systems. The project, on which Beyers says he'll work closely with Morgan and other historic preservationists, should be completed by April 2012.

"We have an awful lot of people with lots of sad stories come before us and … they've got no idea how they would bring their house back to life," Morgan says, "Obviously, Lew is an architect and made a really good impression knowing about construction and everything else."

Cynthia Brubaker, an instructor of architecture in Ball State University's graduate program in historic preservation, whose students have studied and advocated for saving buildings on Muncie's long demolition list, says that while preserving this house is important, she questions whether this amount of funding might have been stretched further to help restore more than just one structure.

"I do agree that three units of affordable housing was a valuable giveback to the community," Brubaker says. "For that [house] to go, it would be the middle of that block, it would be a gap in the smile...it's important and that is an important district, but man, I wish we had that kind of money to spend ten, twenty times over."

Nevertheless, Morgan says the investment in the city is worth the costs. "Maintaining the streetscape and the density of our downtown neighborhoods every chance we have is really important and we have a crying need for affordable housing in Muncie as well."

 

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