Living to Learn: CHN opens Louise C. Stokes Scholar House to help parents finish college

Last Wednesday, April 24, CHN Housing Partners (CHN) cut the ribbon on the Louise C. Stokes Scholar House—a three-story, 40-unit apartment building for parents who are full time students and earning less than 50% of the area median income.

More than 100 funders, partners, residents, community leaders, and members of the Stokes family gathered to celebrate the innovative development. Designed by Hiti, DiFrancesco and Siebold, Regency Construction Services, LLC broke ground on the project on June 15, 2022, after six years of planning.

Scholar_House_Exterior.jpgScholar_House_Exterior.jpgThe Stokes Scholar house is located at 2551 Community College Avenue, across the street from Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) Metropolitan Campus, and within walking distance of Cleveland State University (CSU).

CHN president and CEO Kevin Nowak says the project has been n the works for eight years, and the organization and more than 100 organizations and members of the Stokes family were excited to finally be opening the doors.

“Thanks to the many partners and funders in this work, 40 full-time student parents and their children now have access to affordable, stable housing, high quality childcare and support as they complete their education,” Nowak said at the celebration.

He says the 40 units are already occupied, with the majority of the students attending Tri-C, followed by CSU and students from Lorain County Community College School of Nursing.

The 55.889-square-foot Scholar house features a mix of 40 one- and two-bedroom units, ranging from 842 square feet to 1,067square feet, with full service kitchens and lots of storage. There is high-speed internet throughout the building. Tenants must be full-time students at an accredited Ohio educational institution, with a minimum 2.0 GPA and at least one year left in their programs.

Residents will receive Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority rent vouchers, quality childcare through Step Forward—either on-site or at the William Patrick Day Early Learning Center next door—and life skills, academic counseling, and cohort support for the first-generation college students from CSU or Tri-C.

Lori Stokes giving an overview of the exhibit honoring her grandmother, Louise C. Stokes, to the ribbon cutting attendeesLori Stokes giving an overview of the exhibit honoring her grandmother, Louise C. Stokes, to the ribbon cutting attendeesAdditionally, CHN, United Way, and other organizations will coordinate wrap-around services—including mental health counseling, financial literacy, and access to benefits—and other services.

“These services are critically important, because this is the natural approach to breaking the cycle of poverty,” says Nowak. “When you think about it, the barriers to education [can be] housing costs, jobs, and childcare.”

Amenities in the house include three community rooms—one large room with a communal kitchen and two smaller community study spaces—a computer lab, an exercise room, a child playroom, playground, a laundry room, and office spaces for family education and activities.

“One of the things we found throughout this process of engaging potential residents and designing this through their eyes is that we heard loud and clear there was a need for community spaces, studying together, having the children together with low profile lines to keep an eye on them,” says Nowak.

The Louise C. Stokes Scholar House is named for Louise C. Stokes, mother to former Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes and former United States Congressman Louis Stokes. Louise’s husband and Carl and Louis’ father, Charles Stokes, died at a young age and Louise raised their sons on her own while working full time.

Lori Stokes, the granddaughter of Louise C. Stokes and daughter of Louis Stokes, unveiled a photo exhibit with photos from the Western Reserve Historical Society, in the Scholar House lobby at the ribbon cutting.

Ribbon cutting attendees touring the Step Forward Head Start childcare center attached to the Louise C. Stokes Scholar House buildingRibbon cutting attendees touring the Step Forward Head Start childcare center attached to the Louise C. Stokes Scholar House buildingThe exhibit honors the life of Louise—telling her life story of Louise, who modeled hard work for her sons and emphasized the importance of education. Her sons Louis and Carl each obtained a law degree and served as distinguished elected officials. Carl became the first African American mayor of a major American city, and Louis became the first African American congressman from Ohio.  

“My grandmother, Louise C. Stokes, instilled the importance of education in my father and my uncle, and they instilled that in me, my siblings and my cousins,” said Lori Stokes at the unveiling. “She would be incredibly proud of the dedication the Louise C. Stokes Scholar House residents have to their families and their education. Her greatest hope would be that the residents remain committed to their studies and demonstrate to their children the power of education through their example.”  

In addition to Nowak and Stokes, speakers included Sara Parks Jackson, director of the Cuyahoga County Housing and Community Development Department, Alyssa Hernandez, director of the City of Cleveland’s Community Development Department, Sharon Sobol Jordan, CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland, Ndeda Letson, senior vice president at Citizens Bank, Dr. Denise McCory, president of Cuyahoga Community College Metro Campus and Marilyn Santiago, a resident of the Louise C. Stokes Scholar House. 

“The Louise C. Stokes Scholar House has been wonderful for my son and I so far,” resident and Tri-C student Santiago said at the event. “Living somewhere where all the parents are full time students creates such a strong community because we all understand and can support each other through raising a child while being in school.”  

The $17.3 million LEED certified building was funded by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, Enterprise Housing Credit Investments, LLC, Citizens Bank, federal funding secured by Senator Sherrod Brown, the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, the William J. and Dorothy K. O’Neill Foundation, the Bruening Foundation, Dollar Bank, the RSM US Foundation, and the Community West Foundation.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.