Finding a home in the Uplands: New workforce housing development built in Jasper

The Indiana Uplands is home to opportunities in growing industries within welcoming communities ready to embrace new residents.

As the region continues to grow, a challenge often cited by employers and communities is the lack of affordable housing. A new workforce development housing project in Jasper is one example of how this region is working to meet this challenge and provide residents a place to call home in the Uplands.

Jasper’s University Heights Apartments, an affordable workforce housing development, was built at the corner of 3rd Avenue and Meridian, featuring six buildings and 64 rental units. The housing development is being built in two phases and is already home to a variety of tenants. Employees at local businesses, young professionals, college students, and retirees are leasing in this first phase of University Heights apartments.

The first phase also includes ten income-eligible apartments. In 2022, Jasper’s University Heights Apartments project received READI 1.0 funding to help develop the income-eligible units in Dubois County. Housing was identified as a key goal in the 2021 Indiana Uplands READI Region on the Rise plan, focusing on increasing the supply of owner-occupied and rental housing to support needed workforce. University Heights is one of eight Indiana Uplands housing-related projects that received READI 1.0 funding.

The ten one-bedroom, income-eligible units rent at monthly rates that do not exceed 65% of the county’s area median income (AMI). All units are also currently rented.

“Providing READI 1.0 funding to help construct these apartments for Uplanders in need of assistance is exciting,” said Lisa Abbott, ROI’s Vice President of Economic and Community Development. “At ROI, we know a lack of housing is one of the challenges that must be addressed as we continue to work to make this region ideal for people looking to succeed in our thriving sectors and become members of our welcoming communities.” 

Premier Property Management Kerstiens Realty is the developer, contractor, and property manager of University Heights. Owner Ruger Kerstiens said that with READI 1.0 funding, he was able to keep rent affordable for all tenants. 

Given the cost increases and overruns during a time of inflation, Kerstiens said keeping these units affordable would not have been feasible without READI support.

“READI 1.0 funds allowed us to keep the price point at an attainable rate for our market,” he explained.

The development is in close proximity to Vincennes University Jasper Campus (VUJC), the first housing development to go up near the campus in years.

“I could not be more excited,” said Christian Blome, VUJC Assistant Vice President and Dean. “The University Heights project gives students a housing option that is both walkable and bikeable to campus. There are some rentals nearby that would allow students to have a short commute to campus, but this is the first option this close.”

More units will be available for students and others after the next phase of construction is completed.

“I always ask the question: Who moved in? I want to know the demographics,” he said. “We’ve had people from all walks of life move into this development.”

The majority of tenants were looking to move into a newer apartment with more efficient utilities while others wanted to live closer to work, Kerstiens continued. “Dubois County employs people from many of the surrounding counties,” he said. “Some of the individuals, the ones who are working, said they simply wanted to live closer to where they are working.”

Blome said he appreciated how Kerstiens and his company worked to keep rent affordable for college students to live close to campus.

“They paid close attention to the project cost so that they could ensure the most affordable options for renters. Sometimes students take a class load that only allows them to work part-time, so affordability was a huge priority for me with this project,” he said. “My hope is that this project will encourage other developments on the south side, giving VUJ students even more options to live near campus.”

VUJC is located on an underdeveloped side of Jasper, so building a housing development was a bit of a risk for Kerstiens and his company. But after talking with the university and identifying adjoining land, Kerstiens said he and his company were ready to build the development and “see what happens.”

“Our predictions were right, and it’s been very well received by the community,” he said.

“People want to live over there. I think the project will bring a lot of new residents to the city and this side of town.”

Construction has begun on the second half of the project and is expected to be completed by fall 2024. Leasing information can be found on Premier Property Management Kerstiens Realty’s website and Facebook page

Kerstiens said he and his company are grateful READI funding is being used to invest in rural communities such as Jasper. Premier Property Management Kerstiens Realty is a regional development and property management company that has worked in southern Indiana for 30 years.

Kerstiens grew up in a small town and his company only works in small towns. He said he knows these communities well including the housing that is needed. Whether it be single-family homes or apartments, communities are grateful for new housing built that supports individuals and families locally, he said.

“We are very grateful to have funding such as READI available, to make the price points affordable for community members to access housing,” he said. “Communities, including Jasper, are very appreciative and very fortunate to be able to have received READI funding to complete a project like University Heights.”