In 1987, Stella Neill, RSM, was greatly troubled by the inadequacy of safe, affordable low-income housing in Des Moines. A small group wanted to open a shelter for homeless families, but Stella believed that a shelter alone would provide only a temporary solution. Founding board members Fred Gay, Dean Wright, Patti McKee and Sid Drumheller shared Sister Stella's view, and together they created the vision for Anawim Housing. The nonprofit organization was incorporated in 1987, Sister Stella was named Executive Director, and its first two units were rented in November 1988.
Since our inception, Anawim has spent more than $11 million developing housing for families. In 1997, we received national recognition for our renovation of The Maine apartment building, which became an anchor for our revitalization efforts on Sixth Avenue. The Maine was the first of three Anawim buildings on the National Register of Historic Places to be restored, followed by the New Lawn apartments in 2000 and the Kromer Flats building, which had stood vacant for a number of years. Anawim Housing's work on Sixth Avenue and nearby streets has continued with new housing construction and renovations of duplexes and apartment buildings.
Anawim Housing's strategy is to cluster its homes in contiguous groups, so that it can create entire neighborhoods of safe, revitalized, low-income housing. Its first 145 units were concentrated in the Des Moines Enterprise Community, roughly bordered by Second Avenue and 14th Street, I-235 and Jefferson Street. In 2007, an additional 66 units were created in the Pioneer Woods neighborhood in southeast Des Moines.
"The idea," notes Sister Stella, "is to make a statement of change in blighted neighborhoods, where everyone — even non-Anawim residents — can feel safe and take pride in their homes. Unlike the suburbs, where traditional neighborhood cultures have ebbed, we work in older areas, where houses and families live side-by-side on 50-foot lots. By rebuilding and revitalizing our housing units, we motivate other neighbors to invest in theirs, bringing entire neighborhoods back to life."
In 2007, our 20th anniversary year, Anawim Housing completed our first-ever Capital Campaign, raising $3.5 million to invest in housing stock maintenance and long-term rental relief. The Campaign funded required capital improvements to 96 Anawim Housing properties — including roofs, windows and heating & cooling systems — that will enable these homes to serve low-income families for 20 more years. Additional monies were used to create the Sr. Stella Neill Fund, which provides relief for those who cannot afford even the lowest Anawim Housing rents. The Fund, which is held by the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, will enable more low-income families to establish homes in current and future Anawim Housing. The Campaign also produced $1.5 million in cash and in-kind donations for the development of new townhomes and the Anawim Community Service Center at 21st and Forest.
During 2009, nearly 1,000 children and adults were served, and the organization operated 211 housing units.
Under a contract with the City of Des Moines, Anawim Housing also operates Shelter Plus Care. This program provides rental assistance for homeless individuals and families where an adult suffers from serious mental illness, chronic substance abuse or an AIDS-related disease. At the close of 2009, Shelter Plus Care served nearly 400 children and adults in 200 rental units throughout the metropolitan area.