Israels Planning Senior Housing In Wyoming

July 13, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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WYOMING — When Israels Designs for Living president and CEO Robert Israels was looking last winter for a site for his new Klingman's furniture showroom, he hired a consulting firm to do a $100,000-plus study of the Grand Rapids area.

That report supported his idea to acquire the former Rogers Department Store building on 28th Street and renovate it.

But Israels discovered another "nugget" within its pages.

"I came on a little tidbit of information I did not plan on. That was the extreme need for high-quality senior housing — independent living — in Wyoming. But it had to be at a certain demographic income level," he said.

His purchase of the Rogers site included acreage "that I didn't need," he said.

Israels said he has been involved with development of more than 100,000 housing units, so he knew what to do with the unneeded acreage. Even as the $6 million renovation of the former department store was well underway — it "must be done by August 1," he said — Israels and his son, David, began work on plans for designing and building a nonprofit senior housing complex that could possibly cost up to $85 million, with funding hopefully provided by a federal HUD 202 grant.

David Israels said the process is just beginning. They still have to obtain permits from the city and go through the HUD 202 application process, but if all goes according to plan, groundbreaking could be anywhere from nine to 24 months away.

The HUD 202 program provides capital advances to nonprofit organizations to finance construction, rehabilitation or acquisition of housing for occupancy by low-income elderly, and then provides rent subsidies to help make the units affordable. Individuals must be at least 62, with different subsidies pegged to annual income limits ranging from $13,050 to $34,800 (slightly more for combined incomes of two persons).

Robert Israels said he plans to build the structures but would not operate the facility.

"We would more than likely be partnering with another nonprofit or establishing a complete new nonprofit" to manage it, said David Israels. He noted that the Israels family has had relationships with nonprofit housing entities in Michigan, including Presbyterian Villages of Michigan.

Louis Berra, field office director for HUD in Grand Rapids, said there are about a dozen existing HUD 202 housing projects for seniors in Kent County.

A nonprofit organization that applies for a 202 grant must prove there is a need for more subsidized elderly housing in the targeted community, he said. According to the senior Israels, the consultant's report indicates there is a need for more than 300 senior housing units in the area. The plan is to build about 45 units at the start, he said.

Tentative plans call for three six-story buildings. The architect on the project will be Post Associates Inc., with construction managed by Erhardt Construction Co., said Israels. Both companies are also doing the work on the 150,000-square-foot Klingman's project at the same location.

Doug Kochneff, Wyoming DDA board chairman, said a new senior housing development as envisioned by Israels "will perk up retail business all up and down" 28th Street.

Israels said the Rogers site is in close proximity to a wide variety of retail businesses, noting that seniors "shop and buy stuff for their grandkids."

The units would range in size from 900 to 1,100 square feet, with one or two bedrooms and all the amenities of a regular home, according to Israels.

"You could call it an apartment, but it's not really an apartment because apartments don't have the laundry room, all the extra stuff that you get in this type" of dwelling, he said.

Israels said the key issue is a place for seniors to live where "they never have to move out again."

"It's got to be … close to a bus line, and we're going to have a park over there for grandkids. And is there shopping," he added.

He noted hospitals are not far away, either, via the bus line.

"It's absolutely the perfect location for this thing."

David Israels said the research shows there is an aging group of people in the area who want to stay close to their community even if they can longer stay in their own homes.

"It's important for people (to be able) to stay within their community, because it's where their network of friends are. Typically, it's where their family or care givers are, and to move to a different geographic location — whether it be a five- or 10-mile transition — can be a significant change for people at that stage of their life," said David Israels.

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