Summer 1998

Partners in Hope

When Partners in Housing founder Frank Hagaman '72 "puts on a suit and interprets the needs of social service organizations to the corporate world," the results are solid investments that serve those in need and preserve architectural landmarks.

by Roy Sexton '95

Seventy years ago, young women making a new start among the big city lights of Indianapolis enjoyed a breathtaking view of downtown from the rooftop terrace of the YWCA's Blue Triangle Hall, named for the pins worn by YWCA volunteers during World War II. This "Kimono Garden," as the terrace was known, offered a horizon of possibilities for these hopeful women--the possibilities of successful careers and fulfilling families.

Today, the terrace has none of the luster that signified the optimism of an earlier time. It is littered with debris, empty bottles, dog-eared magazines, and crumpled candy wrappers after years of abuse by vagrants and rebellious teens.

However, tomorrow's visitors will see a different rooftop--one that again symbolizes the hope that only old-fashioned hard work can bring. The leader in this effort to revitalize and reinvent a downtown landmark is Partners in Housing President Frank Hagaman '72.

"The Blue Triangle is an extraordinary project because, first of all, the building was abandoned for 21 years," Hagaman says. "No one knew what to do with it."

"All we're doing is putting it back to the use it was designed for," he explains. "We just recently met three women who lived in the building in the 1940s. One woman came off the farm for her first job and needed a safe, secure place to live. She found a network of friends and support within this building. They had a two-year limit; they had to be off and doing something. Now all of these women have been married, have families, and upper-middle class incomes.

"We are re-creating today exactly what they expected to find in the building when they came here 50 years ago. It's ironic and pragmatic at the same time."

Meeting a Community's Needs

The Blue Triangle renovation is an ambitious project. It aims to provide a wealth of services to Indianapolis' special needs population--in this case the homeless or those in danger of homelessness--while affirming the viability of integrating functional historic landmarks into the urban culture. Currently undergoing extensive renovation, the facility will offer secure housing for 96 residents who earn less than 50% of the median income in Indianapolis. Counseling services will be available to non-residents and residents, as will career placement and planning. It is a project to which Hagaman and his organization have devoted the last two years. By the end of 1998, the Blue Triangle Hall will reopen its doors and resume the mission, albeit for a slightly different demographic, for which it was originally built: providing a haven for those needing a first, second, or even third chance to make their lives their own.

"We are leading the way in supportive housing," Hagaman says. "There is not another organization providing the kind of housing that we are, and we have gained a reputation of being trustworthy. That has made our job much easier. Yet the kind of housing that we are producing has not existed in the city of Indianapolis, so our biggest objective has been to educate the community. Simply said, with the advent of the Blue Triangle, [investors want to know if] we are going to find 96 tenants who can pay the rent. And there is such a chronic need for this kind of simple, very affordable housing that the answer is emphatically 'Yes.'"

Hagaman is quick to point to a city similar to Indianapolis--Columbus, Ohio--which, between a renovated YMCA and YWCA, offers 498 rooms to special needs residents. According to Hagaman, Indianapolis has a long way to go.

Nonetheless, he is pleased by the city's backing of the Blue Triangle project, from the corporate funding from Bank One, Eli Lilly, National City Bank, Key Bank, IPALCO and NBD to the moral support of Mayor Stephen Goldsmith '68, to the enthusiasm of neighborhood residents.

Saving an Historic Landmark

"The Blue Triangle is even more spectacular because when we're done with it, it will look the way it did in 1928 when it was built," explains Hagaman.

For J. Reid Williamson, Jr., President of Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, the Partners project is a much needed shot in the arm for preservation:

"Historic Landmarks Foundation didn't want to lose the Blue Triangle and see another hole in a wall of buildings, and we successfully opposed its demolition in 1995. But you can't stave off demolition forever if you can't find a viable use for a building, and we congratulate Partners for coming to the rescue. Their project saves a handsome historic building, it has the support of the adjacent historic neighborhood, and the housing it provides is critically needed in the downtown area."

Hagaman has earned a following in Indianapolis with a successful formula for marrying sound business practice and community service.

"We are allocated tax credits, and we sell them to the corporate community so that they become investors. Those dollars become equity in the project," Hagaman explains. "The corporation figures its taxes, and the tax credits are used to wipe out whatever tax liability is left at the bottom line. But if we fail, they have to pay back those benefits."

"The business community has to make an investment decision; it's not just, 'Gee, this is a nice thing to do,'" Hagaman adds. "What they are investing in is us--the fact that Partners is credible and is in this for the long-haul. It is a real estate investment really, but there's also a need for housing for the homeless, and we have shown businesses how they can actually make a sound investment and address that need for housing."

A Folding Chair and a Princess Phone

Hagaman began educating the business community about the viability of these investments five years ago with a bare-bones office, a supportive business partner, and a vision. Partners in Housing began even less auspiciously.

"All we had was a folding chair and a princess phone," quips Hagaman. He was working in the banking industry in Connecticut, and, tiring of the profession, noticed a lucrative market for tax credits in the Midwest and, hence, an opportunity to pursue a dream career as a developer of affordable housing. A chance meeting between Hagaman and Wabash classmate Bob Rhodehamel '72 occurred when Hagaman was in Indiana for a Lambda Chi reunion. That led to a discussion over the paltry state of housing for special needs groups, including those suffering from HIV and AIDS.

Hagaman returned to Indiana and began working for the Historic Landmarks Foundation, learning the lay of the land and consulting for the Christian Place supportive housing project. In 1993, Rhodehamel and Hagaman, along with a core group of supporters, founded Partners in Housing.

Rhodehamel defers any success the organization has had to Hagaman and his vision.

"The name 'Partners' basically was Frank's idea, derived from the notion that we wanted to partner with other organizations that provide supportive services. We want to have very active involvement with numerous organizations providing the types of services we think are necessary. That's how we'll be successful.

"My involvement has been mostly as moral support," Rhodehamel says. "Initially, I was there to help with the everyday management of the organization. It was very embryonic, small. I was there to give Frank the environment and support so that he could do what he needed to do. I've always been very much behind the scenes."

Hagaman does not let Rhodehamel off the hook that easily.

"Bob set us up financially with computers, software, setting up the books--Bob really was the unpaid bookkeeper/accountant," Hagaman insists. "You have no idea how gratifying it is to have somebody just be enthusiastic and say, 'Let's do this.' Bob has always offered unconditional support to us."

Partners in Housing's first project was the renovation of the historic Burton Apartments in downtown Indianapolis as affordable housing for the homeless and other special needs groups, including those suffering from AIDS/HIV, chronic mental illness, and drug and alcohol addiction, as well as the frail elderly.

"This sort of housing was not particularly popular for a neighborhood that was trying to improve itself [The Burton is located in the historic St. Joseph's neighborhood]. The Burton had been completely abandoned. It was dilapidated. It had been purchased by someone who wanted to demolish it and turn it into a parking lot," Hagaman says. "However, the neighborhood was fundamentally opposed to the demolition. The building did not make financial sense for any sort of developer, so along comes Partners."

"We told the community that we could put together the financial resources to restore the building and that it would be historically sensitive. However, they had to realize that we would be housing a particular population."

According to Hagaman, since the facility opened in July 1996, the neighborhood has been very appreciative of the Burton's presence for both its attractive facade and the services it provides. Like the Blue Triangle, the Burton offers various counseling services in addition to housing.

"The Burton has been a nice success," Hagaman notes. "The whole idea of supportive housing in Indianapolis has really grown along with our organization. We have demonstrated that the more we can provide to people, the better they are able to deal with their living situation."

Room for Entrepreneurial Spirit

Within Partners, Hagaman has created an environment where continual education and evolution is valued and is essential to further success, taking the liberal arts love of learning and applying it to the business world.

Partners' Director of Development Merri Mike Adams observes, "I love Frank's approach."

"I was in development work for 20 years and then stopped," she says. "I grew tired of working for ever-larger organizations. Partners appeals to me because I want something small and what I call 'muscular.' There's room for entrepreneurial spirit and additional development, and, at the end of the day, you feel like you've accomplished something. I think it's a very exciting organization, and I think Frank has done a tremendous thing. There is nowhere to go but forward."

Indeed, Partners in Housing continues to grow. In the works is a proposed supportive housing project which will feature a retail component. They also plan a partnership with the Indiana Association of Community Economic Development to consult on affordable housing around the state.

"I'm very lucky to be doing what I love to do," Hagaman enthuses. "It's very gratifying to be able to put on a suit and interpret the needs of social service organizations to the corporate world. But we still have a lot to prove."

With Hagaman's drive and skill at putting together unlikely partnerships, Partners in Housing's future seems rife with possibility-- a horizon as bright as it was 70 years ago, and will be again this year, for Blue Triangle Hall's residents gazing at the Indianapolis skyline from their rooftop "Kimono Garden."

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