The demand for affordable senior housing is triggering new conversions

The demand for affordable senior housing is triggering new conversions
The demand for affordable senior housing is triggering new conversions

Work is scheduled to begin on both the Lake Forest and 47th Street projects in the next few months. The goal of these and similar projects is to “prioritize senior housing so people can afford to live in the places they’ve been all their lives,” says Rob Anthony, president of Community Partners for Affordable Housing, an affordable housing nonprofit. developer based in Libertyville.

Anthony’s group is building the Lake Forest cabins on vacant land within blocks of a grocery store, a bank, Starbucks, a few restaurants and the West Lake Forest Metra station. He expects them to rent for $900 a month, which he says is about a third of the price of a comparable market rate in the city.

Even in affluent Lake Forest, “there are people who after they retire can’t afford to stay,” Anthony says.

The Back of the Yards building will be the third “to use our special sauce,” says Celadon principal Scott Henry. Before turning to the Maywood project, Celadon built 60 senior apartments in the shuttered West Pullman School on Chicago’s Far South Side.

The recipe, Henry says, involves putting affordable senior housing into older buildings that communities see as landmarks or assets “that they want to see used again, not torn down.”

He says such sites also appeal to older people, many of whom want “an old-fashioned location” with walking and shopping options. Chicago’s mini-downtowns, like 47th and Ashland, fill the bill.

Celadon’s funding formula combines common incentives for affordable housing development, such as low-income tax credits, with tax credits for historic preservation. The latter, he says, “makes it possible” to do adaptive reuse, which covers about a quarter of a project’s cost.

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“The beauty of that is it means we can charge much lower rents,” says Henry. At Maywood Supportive Living, one-bedroom apartments go for about $700 per month, he says.

One reason so much affordable housing for seniors is being developed, several sources say, is that it is more palatable to existing neighbors than affordable housing for families.

“Somehow magically when people turn 62, they’re safe to be around,” says David Block, director of real estate for Chicago-based Evergreen Group, which put senior housing in Ravenswood Hospital and the former St. Charles Hospital in Aurora.

When a company proposes affordable housing for all ages, Block says, “the people who would live there are often perceived as threatening to their neighbors. There tends to be more resistance.”

Senior projects, Block says, “are much easier to get approved.”

Evergreen is the developer of the Bellwood building, part of an effort by city officials to build new housing of all types. Block says there’s a net effect on housing affordability overall when senior apartments are built: It creates an option for seniors “who were looking for a way to get out from under this house (where) they’ve gotten older and have trouble keeping up with maintenance.”

And when the seniors can move on, their former homes become an option for the younger families who were looking for affordable homes.

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