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A proposed development in Virginia Beach would provide housing for people with mental illness

Person speaks into microphone
Virginia Beach City Council Member Michael Berlucchi speaks after presentation about plan to build affordable housing for people with mental illness. (Photo by VBTV VIDEOS)

This story reported by Paul Bibeau is published in partnership with WHRO.

In a first-of-its-kind partnership, a mental health advocacy group and city development company will team up to provide affordable and supportive housing for people with a mental illness.

The Virginia Beach Community Development Corporation and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) plan to build a housing complex with 45 to 60 apartments.

Eight or nine of them would be for people with mental health issues and some units will also serve people with physical or sensory disabilities.

The remainder of the homes would be priced and reserved for people earning less than the area's median income.

NAMI plans to put its regional headquarters in the complex, with staff on site to help people who live there. NAMI will also use the location to provide classes and support groups to the community.

“You don't want to concentrate either poverty or people with mental illness in a project unless you have really strong… support services with it,” said Ruth Hill, Virginia Beach director of housing and neighborhood preservation.

The project has been in the works for at least a year, and officials have not found a satisfactory location yet.

Kathy Warren, the strategic growth areas manager for the city, said the project needs a plot of land between 1.5 and 5 acres and is close to medical facilities.

“We have located at least one city-owned site that is vacant,” Warren said. “We need to work with NAMI and see if it's suitable for their needs.”

Council Member Michael Berlucchi said mentally ill people without stable housing were likely to have trouble with the law, and with holding down jobs.

“Housing is fundamental to the question of mental illness,” he said. “Without permanent, supportive housing, the other aspects of care and treatment just aren't effective.” 

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.