City Is Building More Retiree Units

July 9, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Not everyone gets a golden parachute when they retire. Many, in fact, find it difficult to land on their feet when their work lives are over.

For at least some of those retirees who didn’t get the stock options, the Grand Rapids Housing Commission (GRHC) is there to help them with a place to live.

GRHC operates 591 federally subsidized apartments for low-income and disabled seniors at four facilities in the city.

Another 100 units are on the way and each one will be needed.

Executive Director Carlos Sanchez told the Business Journal that at any given time 98 percent, or 579, of the 591 apartments are rented, and each complex consistently has a waiting list of roughly 50 seniors.

“Right now, I have seven apartments available at Adams Park and one or two units at each of the other buildings,” he said.

Rents are based on a tenant’s ability to pay with a ceiling that stops at 30 percent of a retiree’s adjusted monthly household income.

For a single senior to be eligible to rent an apartment, his or her annual income has to fall under $25,740 or $34,350, depending on the complex. But Sanchez said almost none of his tenants are anywhere near either figure. He said his retirees easily clear the limits, as most have yearly incomes around $10,000.

GRHC gets its funding for senior apartments from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Sanchez said the commission received $16 million from HUD for the last fiscal year.

But that money wasn’t just dedicated to retirees, because it must be spread out over all of the programs the GRHC operates for 2,700 local seniors, disabled and families. About half of those dollars go to the Section 8 low-income housing program, which Sanchez said would likely see 10 percent less funding coming from Congress in the years ahead.

“Other programs have separate contracts and are renewed on an annual basis. I don’t see any cuts in those at this time,” he said, while adding that in-kind donations from various service agencies comprise the other funding sources for senior housing.

GRHC began a $6.5 million expansion project last winter at Mount Mercy Apartments, an effort that will add 55 apartments to the facility at 1425 Bridge St. NW. At least a quarter of those new units will be set aside for low-income seniors who are disabled or have long-term support requirements that make living independently a challenge.

The addition is being partially financed by $465,000 of federal low-income housing tax credits that the Michigan State Housing Development Authority awarded the commission last fall. GRHC then leveraged those credits and secured $5 million worth of construction financing from Fifth Third Bank.

Cycon Enterprises Inc. is managing the project. SKO and Associates Inc. designed the addition.

“The apartments will be ready in November so we’re adding 55 more units there,” said Sanchez.

When those units open, Mount Mercy, a former Catholic convent and private school for girls, will have 180 apartments.

At the time when the expansion project was announced in December, work on a $1.38 million renovation to the 87-year-old building’s north wing was wrapping up. That project renovated the chapel, auditorium, kitchen and community space.

Sanchez said the commission would start another construction project in September, as GRHC recently purchased a former public school at 1010 Sheldon Ave. SE. That work will create 45 more apartments for retirees.

“It should be ready sometime next year. We’re going to gut the school out and add 20 units in there and some cottage apartments around it,” he said.

All four city-operated senior apartment houses are barrier free, include utility charges in the rent, and offer a list of nice amenities including community space with scheduled social activities.

The commission’s waiting list for all its public housing topped 7,700 families two weeks ago, meaning the list has grown by 282 percent in the last five years.

“The fact that demand for housing assistance in our community far exceeds the resources at our disposal is unfortunate,” said Sanchez.

“But we will certainly continue to work with HUD and our community partners to narrow this gap and to meet the affordable housing needs of Grand Rapids families.”

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