To drive a stake into generational poverty, developer and churches team up on Walnut Hills project

'A tremendous help for moms and kids'
Posted at 6:00 AM, Apr 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-29 01:00:28-04

CINCINNATI -- Walnut Hills has seen a surge of restaurants, bars and housing that have catered to middle- and high-income residents, with a lot more in the works.

But one of the developers behind that high-end progress hopes to add a brand new apartment complex and child care center designed to lift two generations out of poverty at a time.

Model Group developers has teamed up with Cincinnati Union Bethel and Christ Church Cathedral in an effort to build Cincinnati Scholar House, a 45-apartment complex with a preschool and daycare, for single parents pursuing a college degree and their children.

Model Group would build it, Cincinnati Union Bethel would operate the facility, and Christ Church would help pay for it and provide ongoing volunteer support.

They have a site on East McMillan Street near Gilbert Avenue ready to go, and $2 million raised by Christ Church to help build it. The last piece of the puzzle is landing $11.5 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits to finance the project. They'll hear in June whether they'll receive the credits.

Bobby Maly, COO and principal at Model Group, said the coalition's goal is to drive a stake into generational poverty.

"This combines two of the things we love the most: high-quality affordable housing to end generational poverty and Walnut Hills," Maly said. "It truly would be part of the neighborhood revitalization strategy and a tremendous help for moms and kids."

The project has been in the works for years, ever since staff from Cincinnati Union Bethel, Cincinnati State and The Model Group visited Scholar House facilities in Louisville and Lexington five or six years ago, said Stephen MacConnell, president and CEO of Cincinnati Union Bethel.

Cincinnati Scholar House is part of a bigger redevelopment plan centered around the Gilbert Avenue and East McMillan Street intersection. Rendering courtesy of Model Group.

Cincinnati Union Bethel is working to raise an additional $300,000 to operate the program.

"We were impressed from the get go because we saw a chance to really impact at least two generations of people in need of housing and education," MacConnell said. "We decided at that point that we would do everything we could to get involved."

The group hopes to build on the success of scholar houses in Louisville, Newport and Covington.

Northern Kentucky Scholar House in Newport opened in 2015 as the first Scholar House in the region. The Lincoln Grant Scholar House in Covington became the second when families began moving in there in December.

Cincinnati Scholar House would have 45 units of housing, MacConnell said, consisting of apartments with one, two, three and maybe even four bedrooms.

Like the other Scholar House programs, it would cater to single parents who have custody of their children and want to go to college full-time as a path out of poverty for themselves and their kids.

Cincinnati Scholar House would have an early childhood education program on site that will accommodate children from 5 weeks to 5 years old.

"(Families in poverty) will now be able to have parents who are in college and the children kind of looking through a different mirror and seeing good examples in parents and that from the get go, education is the way to go," MacConnell said.

Cincinnati Scholar House also plans to partner with other organizations to be able to provide health care, nutrition and wellness services on site, with a lot of help from Christ Church volunteers.

"Everybody's pretty excited about this," MacConnell said. "This will be the first one in Cincinnati so we're excited."

Christ Church was sold on the scholar house model to the point that they made funding it the focus of a major fundraising campaign to mark the church's 200th anniversary.

Christ helped found Cincinnati Children's Hospital and Community Chest, which evolved into United Way of Greater Cincinnati, and church leaders wanted to reach for another monumental goal.

The Very Rev. Gail Greenwell, Christ pastor, said church members have been volunteering at Newport's Scholar House for years, and she and other leaders researched similar organizations elsewhere in Kentucky before becoming convinced it was a transformational vehicle for helping change people's fortunes.

"This intrigued us because it's not only housing but really giving an opportunity to two generations at a time," she said. "What's critical and what's so different about this is the ability to give the children this amazing start on their academic careers with a first-rate preschool."

One mom's story

Shiba Shorter arrived in Northern Kentucky in 2014 with her two children, her truck and not much else.

She was heading to Cleveland to stay with a friend after fleeing an abusive relationship when Shorter's friend suddenly called to say they couldn't stay with her after all.

Shiba Shorter inside her Northern Kentucky Scholar House apartment.

Shorter and her kids spent six months at a homeless shelter before they landed in a subsidized housing program. She wasn't sure where they would end up until she heard about Northern Kentucky Scholar House.

The Scholar House program offered Shorter and her kids a safe, subsidized apartment. There was quality daycare within walking distance. And Shorter got all the support she needed to focus on going back to school to build a better life for her family.

"I am almost a whole new person being here," said Shorter, 33, who has lived at Northern Kentucky Scholar House since late 2015. "We're lucky to have been able to come here and pick up our pieces and start over. I don't believe my children's children will be living in poverty. And that's a huge deal."

Northern Kentucky Scholar House in Newport opened in 2015 as the first Scholar House in the region. The Lincoln Grant Scholar House in Covington became the second when families began moving in there in December.

Shorter said she's confident that Cincinnati Scholar House can change the lives of families in Hamilton County just as the Northern Kentucky Scholar house did for her and her kids.

She had tried going to college on and off for years but could never successfully juggle her education, work and raising her daughter and son on her own.

But now she's enrolled at Gateway Community & Technical College and Northern Kentucky University, majoring in communications. She works 20 hours a week at Gateway. She's getting straight As, and she's even thinking about pursuing a master's degree.

"Scholar House removes that burden out the way," she said. "We have a beautiful place to live. We're not stressed out about a light bill disconnection notice. You're free to spread your wings and become more self sufficient." -- Lucy May

Greenwell said the project will offer wraparound services that will last beyond a family's stay at the house to boost chances for long-term success.

"We asked ourselves what we could do for our third century that would be visionary, and when this opportunity came along, this is what we knew we wanted to get involved with," she said.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to To read more stories by Lucy, go to To reach her, email Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

Bob Driehaus covers economic development. Contact him and follow stories on Facebook, Google, and Twitter.