Next summer, when a Hartford YWCA building’s current apartments and rooms are fully transformed into supportive housing, women who are homeless or who are at risk of becoming homeless will have a new, permanent place to call home. And in the next few years, hundreds of men and women across the state will have that same option after the State Bond Commission approved $7 million in grants to create up to 300 new units of supportive housing.

Supportive housing – a type of permanent housing that comes with free support from case managers or other social service providers – has been springing up in Connecticut for nearly a decade. The first supportive housing complex was built in an old hotel in Middletown in 1996. The complex, called Liberty Commons, is intended for low-income adults.

“It’s been operating successfully for some years,” said Janice Elliott, director of the New Haven-based Corporation for Supportive Housing’s Southern New England Program.

The renovation of the formerly blighted hotel also helped the housing complexes in the surrounding neighborhood, Elliott said.

Supportive housing serves a mix of people – from those who are homeless or have disabilities to low-income people who need affordable housing – and are important because they allow segments of the population most at risk of homelessness to work closely with support staff who can help them find work, transportation or treatment for mental illness or addiction.

“There’s no stigma attached to getting help [in a supportive housing situation],” Elliott said.

The state program that funded Liberty Commons and several other supportive housing complexes then studied them and found that they were a valuable alternative to shelters and helped prevent or stop people from being homeless, Elliott said. Housing someone in a supportive housing apartment costs the same per year as housing someone in a shelter bed, said Sharon Castelli, executive director of the Hartford-based Chrysalis Center, which will provide the social services for the planned Hartford project, which will be called Soromundi Commons and located in a YWCA facility. Since the study, the state has launched a program called the Supportive Housing Pilots Initiative and has given millions of dollars in grants to various nonprofit organizations for the development of new housing, according to a release from the Connecticut Department of Economic & Community Development.

Supportive housing can have a variety of faces. Some, like the facility at the Hartford YWCA, are in a complex with support staff like case managers and counselors on site. Other supportive housing can be scattered around a city or region, with support staff coming to visit. Supportive housing is different from homeless shelters because it often is a permanent housing option and allows people to maintain relationships with their case managers for years instead of months. Most residents stay in supportive housing for three to five years, Elliott said.

‘Unique Opportunity’

There are about 1,700 units of supportive housing in Connecticut, according to the DECD release, and hundreds more in development.

“There are about 400 units in development right now. Unfortunately, the need is far beyond that,” Elliott said.

Most of the supportive housing is in urban areas across the state, but there are some units in small communities, she said.

The YWCA building is south of downtown Hartford and, after the renovations, will offer services to 71 low-income individuals who are homeless or at risk for becoming homeless, according to information on the project from the Chrysalis Center. The eight-floor complex, called Soromundi Commons, will have 35 one-bedrooms apartments, 13 efficiency units and 12 shelter beds – three of which will be dedicated to the YWCA’s Sexual Assault Crisis Service. The renovation will costs $9.5 million and is being financed through both public and private funding, according to information from the Chrysalis Center.

“This will be a very unique opportunity [for the complex’s residents],” Castelli said.

Because of the different types of housing, residents will be able to go through many steps toward self-sufficiency in the same place and with the same support staff, she said.

And so far, the YWCA’s neighbors like the changes.

“The community has been very supportive,” she said.

Proposals for supportive housing projects are not always well received, Elliott said, although developers are getting better at choosing the right place for the complexes.

“Folks have gotten smarter about siting,” she said.