There are plenty of unanswered questions in the dispute between the city of South Bend and a local developer over the housing of people at the former Madison Center.
But one thing’s for sure: This is not the way to responsibly address the city’s need for affordable housing.
Instead, controversy has overwhelmed the issue, with officials and local business owners accusing developer David Matthews of illegally housing people at the former psychiatric hospital on Niles Avenue without the required permission from the city.
Matthews been using the building in the city’s East Bank area to provide housing for as many as 30 at-risk people, at least some of whom were recently homeless. This comes after his announced plans to convert the building into a hotel catering to traveling youth sports teams.
City officials say Matthews is illegally housing people and collecting public money — through Emergency Rental Assistance — while doing so. They say they can’t allow him to continue until he goes through the proper channels to convert it into a traditional hotel or a longer-term “group home.”
For his part, Matthews has argued that he already has the right to operate the building as an extended-stay hotel.
Caught in the middle are the residents, some of whom recently left the Motels4Now program for the homeless. One tenant said that he was living under a bridge less than two years ago before enrolling in Motels4Now.
He also expressed appreciation for the quiet and amenities at his new home — though he noted that he doesn’t have heat, relying instead on a space heater, and that the shower on his floor hadn’t been working.
Among the most pressing questions is how to resolve this problem without having to evict vulnerable members of the community. Matthews should have considered his options before choosing to set up a housing plan without going through the proper channels and ensuring he first had the city’s approval.
The need for solutions to the city’s housing problems couldn’t be clearer. But this community doesn’t need a standoff resulting from an irresponsible effort, with the lives of 30 people hanging in the balance.