MUNCIE, Ind. -- A community staple for Muncie kids and families is getting kicked out of their building. The Muncie Unity Center is being told they have until June 30 to pack up and move from the facility.
The center, owned by The Muncie Housing Authority, begins summer programming for children on June 5. Now center leaders are scrambling to find other locations for the programs.
According to the housing authority CEO, Joe Anderson, the housing authority is facing financial hardship at the center’s location because no one is paying rent. Anderson says there are also structural issues and costs associated with the building.
Unity Center Program Director Carl Malone said they signed a contact with the housing authority through 2018 and aren't required to pay rent.
"We’ve been blindsided and we don’t have an exit plan to go anywhere," Malone said. "Our plan is to stay put. We just want to stay and let the judge say we have to go."
The center provides breakfast, lunch and a snack for children in the summer who might not otherwise have options for food. Parents say they're devastated to learn the news.
"I love seeing all the kids come here seeing the kids laughing and playing," said one parent.
Malone said they asked Anderson what options were available to pay rent and utilities before the end of the contract and were told any amount wouldn't be enough. When asked for clarification on if the center had other options and questions about grants given to the housing authority designated for unity center use, Anderson did not respond.
In a statement, the housing authority wrote:
"We have proposed to close the building mid-Summer while we work on obtaining additional tenants and work on a plan to fix some issues in the building. We hope to be in a better position to lease this facility to other tenants and to make space available to the Unity Center at some point soon. We are maintaining communications with the Unity Center Board President, and assisting with finding other locations for the Unity Center programming this Summer."
In addition to providing enrichment programs for kids and teens, the center has also aided in keeping teens off the streets and from making bad decisions. The center has become a safe haven for kids and teens to feel comfortable talking about guns and violence.
"With no contact and no building, we lose. The whole community loses," Malone said.
Delaware County Prosecutor Jeff Arnold said in a statement:
"The Unity Center is an essential partner in our efforts to prevent crime and violence. A solution needs to be found and found quickly."
Malone said center leaders plan to meet with city and state officials next week to talk about options. He also said he plans to take legal action and feels the housing authority is breaching their contract agreement.