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New Leaf Justice Enterprise offers Athens County residents affordable housing options

Athens County’s newest housing nonprofit, New Leaf Justice Enterprise, strives to provide economic justice for Appalachian regions with 3D-printed, affordable and sustainable housing opportunities.

The New Leaf Justice Enterprise, located at 485 Richland Ave., is a project of the Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program, or SAOP, and the Ohio Department of Development’s Appalachian Community Grant Program funds the project. The Ohio Department of Development Governor's Office of Appalachia awards and administers the funds. 

The program provides participants with childcare, housing, case management, counseling and supported employment activities. 

Athens County ranks below both state and federal housing ownership rates at 59.8%, Ohio’s rate is 64% and the national rate is 66%, according to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency

Because of the county’s low rates, the program operates through a comprehensive Social Determinants of Health, or SDOH, and Social Determinants of Work, or SDOW, improvement strategy that deploys holistic services across the affordable housing continuum of care. 

Before utilizing resources, program participants complete a pre-intake interview with one of New Leaf’s community partners such as ACEnet, Rural Action, OhioMeansJobs or Ohio University.

Within the first six months, participants are given workforce development and financial empowerment resources and housing opportunities if applicable. After receiving those training sessions, participants may begin work for New Leaf, earning up to $15 per hour for another six months. 

After holding a position within New Leaf, participants are guided toward a long-term employment solution and look outside for housing opportunities. Participants can remain in New Leaf housing for two years or longer, whereafter they are guided in purchasing an advanced or traditional house. 

Executive Director of SAOP, Jennifer Seifert, said the organization is about more than just housing. The goal is to empower clients to live successful, independent and violence-free lives.

“It’s ultimately about serving people and not necessarily a community because communities are composed of individual people,” Seifert wrote in an email.

In a 2023 Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation report, Athens County recorded 84 domestic violence incident charges.

According to the New Leaf Justice Enterprise website, approaches like New Leaf are critical to addressing generational poverty because experiencing trauma, incarceration or substance misuse uproots survivors from the community, destabilizes households and significantly impacts the brain functioning and overall health of an entire family. New Leaf’s approach works to restore the family’s roots, and ultimately the community, so both can thrive.

Seifert said she’s noticing more communities around the area coordinating and supporting one another around the affordable housing issue. She said that solving the housing problem takes an organized effort from the state, local and federal government, and profit and nonprofit entities.

“The New Leaf program consists of three major components: free housing for two years that gives residents autonomy; supportive services … and living-wage employment that includes workforce development training so that residents graduate into meaningful and sustainable careers,” Seifert wrote in an email.

Erica Flanders, Athens County Metropolitan Housing Authority, or ACMHA, coordinator of property management and administration said her organization also offers families self-sufficiency services. Flanders said ACMHA partners with agencies like Hopewell Health Centers Inc. and Integrated Services Roweton. 

“If we run across somebody and we see them struggling with some mental health issues, and they give us permission, we can make a referral,” Flanders said. “Those agencies would provide the transportation or behavioral health side of things."

Seifert said the biggest thing SAOP is working on right now is using 3D printing to bring environmentally friendly, cost effective and efficiently built housing units to Southeast Ohio in a way that serves the needs of individuals and communities.

“This technology has the promise to not only address the affordable housing issue, but that it can also become an economic driver as we train people on the technology and grow this new and innovative industry here in Appalachian Ohio,” Seifert wrote in an email.


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