How do you attract artists and entrepreneurs to your city? Angola is offering affordable housing

February 6th, 2019

By Ali Brand | Input Fort Wayne

While some cities shy away from affordable housing for fear that it will decrease property values or increase crime, the City of Angola is embracing it for the exact opposite reasons—because it believes affordable housing will attract talent and grow the economy.

Angola’s Mayor Richard Hickman and his administration are currently applying to the state of Indiana for funds to construct an affordable housing development called Enterprise Pointe that is geared toward aspiring artists and entrepreneurs in Steuben County.

Hickman believes Enterprise Pointe will provide the necessary housing and opportunities within the City of Angola for creatives who are eager to hone their craft or create their own job, but are not yet self-sufficient.

Once complete, the housing development will expand the city’s existing Enterprise Center campus, replacing its currently unused buildings with 50 units—10 of which are ADA Type-A compliant.

Angola is currently applying to the state of Indiana for funds to construct Enterprise Pointe.

These apartments will provide a functional living and working space for households making 60 percent or less of the annual area median income for Steuben County.

Leadership in Angola sees the future Enterprise Pointe as a development vital to their growth as a community. Not only will it repurpose a property that’s been under-utilized, but also it will assist 50 artists and entrepreneurs who will hopefully grow to stimulate the local economy, Hickman explains.

When he first came to office as mayor in 2001, he recalls that only about 10 percent of his job focused on economic development. Today, he says about 90 percent of what he does is tied to the economic growth of his city somehow, including the future Enterprise Pointe.

It's all part of a growing trend across the country as mayors place increasing importance on attracting and retaining talent in their cities, and indicators show that Angola might be on the right track. A POLITICO Magazine study published in October 2017 identifies affordable housing as the biggest impediment to talent attraction among the millennial generation, in particular.

"Craft beer helps, but affordable housing is key," the study says.

Enterprise Pointe will offer 50 units—10 of which are ADA Type-A compliant.

Hickman attributes the Enterprise Pointe project to Angola's growing focus on its “quality of place” factors and making the city accessible to creatives on a budget.

“Every city wants to have a quality of place,” Hickman says. “We want to draw in more artists and entrepreneurs. We think we have all the educational opportunities for them. We just need an affordable place for them to live.”

To make the project a reality, Hickman and his team are partnering with Brightpoint, a private, non-profit agency based in Fort Wayne.

Brightpoint’s mission is to reduce poverty throughout the northeast Indiana region by providing the resources to enable individuals to be self-sufficient and financially stable. The organization services 15 regional counties, including Steuben County, where Angola is located.

Steve Hoffman, President and CEO of Brightpoint, says affordable housing projects, in particular, are important for growing cities because stable housing is a key economic driver.

“Families aren’t going to be able to improve their employment situations or incomes if they don’t have stable housing,” Hoffman explains.

While he stresses that affordable housing is a critical need across the country, it still has a stigma in many communities.

For nearly five years, Brightpoint had been searching throughout northeast Indiana for a community to welcome an affording housing development and business incubator like Enterprise Pointe.

It wasn’t until the leadership in Angola showed interest in the project that Enterprise Pointe found its future home.

Vivian Likes, Director of the Office of Economic Development and Planning in Angola, sums up the city’s enthusiasm for the project, saying it will likely have even bigger results than they realize now.

“A lot of time I hear, ‘Well, (potential residents) are not making very much if they’re only making $25,000 a year, and what kind of apartments are they going to get?’” she says. “That’s just it. They’re going to get something unique.”

With a central location in downtown Angola, Enterprise Pointe is within a mile of several local amenities the city, including City Hall, a park, a library, a school, and three of the top 25 largest employers in Steuben County: RR Donnelley, Trine University, and Cameron Memorial Hospital.

On the campus itself, residents will have access to the Enterprise Center, which offers access and training to equipment such as CBC machines, welding machines, and a 3D printer.

Residents will also have access to the whole package of Brighpoint’s services—from assistance programs to business development services.

Hickman says collaborating with Brightpoint is part of what made the project doable.

In addition to its programs and services, Brightpoint is one of two SBA Intermediary Mircolenders in Indiana, meaning it can provide capital to entrepreneurs that they wouldn’t usually be able to get from traditional moneylenders because of poor credit scores or low-income status.

With Brightpoint, anyone with a good idea and a solid plan can grow to be an entrepreneur.

“Brightpoint adds a layer that we don’t have readily available in Angola to help these people out,” Hickman explains.

Once the project is complete, Brightpoint’s Development Fund staff will host courses on-site at Enterprise Pointe, either one-on-one or in a group, for instruction in business management, accounting, marketing, and more.

In doing so, Hickman hopes Enterprise Pointe will be the first step in the careers of budding artists, entrepreneurs, and business owners, providing them with the means to flourish in Angola and benefit the city as a whole.

“We want to be the best Angola we can be,” Hickman says.