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First step to senior rentals

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A new affordable senior rental housing project has moved closer to reality since Wright State University and Home Inc. agreed that Home Inc. will purchase land  currently owned by the university on the south end of town.

Recently, the two entities approved a purchase agreement for Home Inc. to purchase 1.8 acres of land at the rear of the lot formerly used by Wright State Physicians medical clinic. Last fall Miami Township purchased the front two acres of the lot, located along Xenia Avenue between Marshall and Herman Streets, for its future fire station.

“There’s an incredible pent-up demand for this sort of housing,” Home Inc. Executive Director Emily Seibel said last week, regarding the senior rental project.

The project is moving ahead with the help of the Morgan Family Foundation, which is providing Home Inc. a below market-rate loan for the purchase of the land. While Morgan Foundation Administrator Lori Kuhn said she could not disclose the precise amount of the loan, the purchase price for the land is $270,000, according to Seibel.

  Last week Seibel said it’s too soon to specify the number of apartments that Home Inc. aims to develop at the site. However, she said, the nonprofit is looking to develop a “larger” project similar in size to that envisioned several years ago for the Barr property downtown. That project, which fizzled after it did not win state funding, aimed for 33 rental apartments for seniors, with most renting for below-market rates.

Affordable senior rentals have been identified as one of the top housing needs in Yellow Springs, according to the Housing Needs Assessment completed by Bowen National Research of Columbus. In a report to Council in January, Patrick Bowen of the firm stated that the village has the potential to accommodate 500 new housing units in town, with about half of those units being affordable rentals. And because the average age of villagers is 51 years, many of those rentals would be for seniors.

Affordable senior rentals also rose to the top of priorities identified in the recent community conversations around housing, according to Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen. 

While a senior affordable rental development would most directly meet the needs of older villagers, it would also meet other local needs, according to Seibel. When seniors have more housing options and a chance to downsize, their current larger homes would be available for families to purchase. And more housing units means more people in town to help lessen the tax burden.

“This is a public good that meets not only the needs of seniors, but others’ needs as well,” she said.

The former Wright State site is a prime location for senior housing, according to Seibel. Only a block and a half from the Antioch College Wellness Center, it’s also across the street from Friends Care Community. After the new fire station is constructed, it will be across a parking lot from the fire department, where emergency health care is available. It’s also on the Greene CATS yellow bus line, providing easy access to downtown. And there are few land parcels in town large enough for a development of this size. It was identified as the first choice for the project by the Senior Housing Working Group sponsored by  Home, Inc., she said.

  “The group looked at every property in town, and this was determined to be the best property,” Seibel said.

If the project comes to fruition, it will be the culmination of at least 10 years of effort toward providing more affordable senior housing in the village. The effort began in 2007, when the Morgan Family Foundation purchased what was then called the Barr property downtown, gifting the land to Friends Care Community with the stipulation that it be used for affordable senior housing.

While the FCC moved forward with plans to develop the housing, the project later stalled as a casualty of the recession. Not long after, Home Inc. joined with the Columbus nonprofit Buckeye Community Hope with a plan to develop about 33 below market-rate apartments for seniors on the site, pending financing from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency tax credit program. However, that project was not awarded funding. Later, the land was sold to the Hammond family for the development of the Mills Park Hotel.

One who has been involved in the Senior Housing Working Group for at least a decade is Suzanne Patterson. The group is currently looking to assemble a list of those who would be interested in the senior rentals, she said, and interested persons should contact her at 767-9242. 

While the long delay has sometimes been discouraging, it’s exciting to see the effort to address the senior housing needs move forward, according to Patterson, who cited the involvement of the Morgan Family Foundation as critical in getting the project rolling again. 

“It’s huge that the Morgan Foundation came back in to help,” she said.

Several years ago, the foundation announced that it was suspending grants in Yellow Springs following a grant to Antioch College for $6 million dollars. Previously, the foundation had awarded almost $10 million in funding over a 10-year period to local nonprofits, along with consistent grants to Home, Inc. The five-year hiatus in funding is up in 2019, according to Kuhn, and when Seibel of Home Inc. approached the foundation for a loan, the foundation decided to move ahead. 

“Housing is a critical need in the community,” Kuhn said. “This was a good opportunity for the foundation to make a difference.”

For Seibel, the current effort is the result of a extensive multi-year effort to meet the needs of seniors in the village.

“We stand on the shoulders of extraordinary efforts made over a decade to bring this project to fruition,” she said.

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