Gary Brink & Associates
The apartment building would be built on vacant land next to the facility at 1350 McCarthur Rd. that houses Elizabeth House, Care Net's home for pregnant women, and its medical clinic.
City staff is recommending awarding $550,000 in low-interest loans to Care Net Pregnancy Center of Dane County to build an apartment complex to house residents "graduating" from its residence for pregnant young single women.
The Community Development Block Grant committee is due to review the staff recommendation (PDF) on Wednesday, Jan. 17. The funding would also need to be approved by the Board of Estimates and Common Council, where the project is likely to be controversial due to Care Net's anti-abortion stance and religious focus.
Planning staff has also recommended approval of a conditional-use permit for the site.
Rhonda Thompson, development director for Care Net of Dane County, said the proposed apartment building, Eagle Harbor Apartments, would provide affordable housing to singles, couples and families. Apartments would be available to individuals with incomes as low as 30% of the Dane County median income, and some would be offered at market rate.
The apartment building would be built on vacant land next to the facility at 1350 McCarthur Rd. that houses Elizabeth House, Care Net's home for pregnant women, and its medical clinic. The proposed (PDF) three-story apartment building would include 36 apartment units and a daycare center that would serve up to 32 children.
"We would like to be available for women who have graduated [from Elizabeth House] to have a place close by where she and her child could move to," says Thompson.
"We'd like to also provide a home for some of the clients we see who already have children," she adds.
Care Net, a so-called crisis pregnancy center, said in its application for funding (PDF) that it would offer many of its services, including parenting education, childbirth education and first aid, to residents of Eagle Harbor Apartments. It would also offer access to Care Net's medical clinic services, including pregnancy testing and verification; medically indicated obstetrical ultrasound for dating and viability; STI testing and treatment; "options" counseling; and post-abortion support for women and men.
Care Net initially applied for $250,000 in Affordable Housing Trust Fund monies and $550,000 in neighborhood and community development funds. Working with city staff, the agency modified its request, and staff is now recommending $400,000 in Affordable Housing Trust Fund loans and $150,000 in loans through the HOME program, a federally funded affordable housing program.
Care Net submitted a letter (PDF) to the city in response to staff questions about the agency's status as a faith-based organization.
"Please be assured that although we self-identify as a Christian ministry, we have not and will never impose a religious requirement on any client seeking our services," wrote Liz Osborn, the group's executive director. "Likewise, no tenant at Eagle Harbor Apartments will be required to have any religious preference, including those tenants in the supported units."
Osborn also wrote that Care Net has "both an internal policy and an obligation stemming from our affiliation with three national organizations that 'clients are served without regard to age, race, income, nationality, religious affiliation, disability or other arbitrary circumstances.'"
Osborn said that a property management firm would lease and manage the property and handle all tenant screening. "Eagle Harbor Apartments will be operated independently from Care Net."
Thompson says the day care would also be subcontracted out to a provider. "We'd not be directly staffing it," she says.
"We are a faith-based ministry," Thompson says. But, she adds, "We welcome people of all faiths or no faith."
Care Net of Dane County is an affiliate of Care Net, which operates a network of 1,100 crisis pregnancy centers across the country. The group proclaims its ultimate aim is to "share the love and truth of Jesus Christ in both word and deed."
The city staff recommendation acknowledges that Care Net is a religious nonprofit group but adds that faith-based groups are "eligible, on the same basis as any other organization, to participate in the HOME [and other federal] program(s)."
HOME regulations, in fact, state that no governmental body receiving funding under this program may "discriminate against an organization on the basis of the organization's religious character or affiliation," staff wrote.
Groups directly funded under the HOME program, however, "may not engage in inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization, as part of the funded assistance," staff added.
If such activities are offered, they must be offered separately, in time or location, from the assistance provided and must be voluntary.
"They will have to provide assurances that the housing units will be made available to the general population, and not just slotted for clientele that might follow certain practices or beliefs," says Jim O'Keefe, director of the Community Development Block Grant Office. "They will have to demonstrate to our satisfaction how they will do that."
Jenni Dye, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, which supports abortion rights, says that "based on the practices of crisis pregnancy centers we have concerns about using public funding for their projects."
Dye also says she would be concerned if the group used these public funds in any way to support their "abortion-related agenda."
Ald. Lisa Subeck, who is the former executive director of NARAL, says she plans to attend the CDBG committee meeting to learn more. She says she does have "grave concerns" because crisis pregnancy centers "have been shown to use some highly deceptive tactics in dissuading women from getting abortions."
Subeck cited a report released in 2006 by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman of California that found that 87% of federally funded pregnancy resource centers provided false and misleading information about the physical and mental health effects of abortion and exaggerated the medical risks of abortion.
"It sounds warning bells for me immediately," says Subeck. But she adds that it is "also very challenging to oppose good-quality affordable housing if that is what this is."
Thompson says she's familiar with the Waxman report but defends the work Care Net of Dane County does.
"We have a commitment of care and competence that we adhere to," she says. "We provide accurate medical information."
She says the nurses and staff at the medical clinic listen to their patients' concerns and values, "help her process where she's at and make a plan to move forward."
If the woman decides to continue her pregnancy, Care Net will make the appropriate referrals, says Thompson. But if a woman decides that abortion is the right choice, Care Net provides no help. "We do not refer for abortion," Thompson says.
Ald. Joe Clausius, whose district includes the proposed apartment building, says that nearby homeowners have expressed concerns about increased density and traffic from the development. But he says those problems can be addressed.
"No matter what goes into the vacant lot, [neighbors] will have concerns."
Clasius is also a fan of Care Net.
"To me Care Net is above reproach," he says. "They want to expand their mission and part of it is affordable housing."
He says no one at two neighborhood meetings raised any concerns about the organization's operations or its faith focus. And he is similarly not bothered.
"It's not a concern to me."