photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World
With $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds in tow, the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority is aiming to add more affordable housing for one key demographic — senior citizens.
Douglas County leaders granted the LDCHA the third-largest single funding allocation of any external agency in July. That money and some of the agency’s own reserve funds combined will help to fund a $4 million, 32-unit expansion at Clinton Place Apartments, an existing affordable housing development for senior citizens.
Clinton Place is located in central Lawrence at 2125 Clinton Parkway, just off the nearby Iowa Street intersection. The LDCHA purchased the three-story apartment building in 2006 and remodeled it the next year, turning it into 58 units of affordable one-bedroom apartments for senior citizens. Rent is based on 30% of gross annual income, and Clinton Place residents are given a monthly utility allowance to help defray the cost of utilities.
The project site, meanwhile, is right off Clinton Parkway, LDCHA Executive Director Shannon Oury told the Journal-World Friday. The space is currently occupied by a grassy lawn but eventually will house 32 one-bedroom apartments sitting somewhere around 650 square feet in size and with heightened accessibility.
photo by: Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority
“Our goal for our senior housing project is to allow people to age in place as long as they’re able,” Oury said. “… I have a group of people who are doing research on any assistive technology that we can find to help people age in place. We’ll have a lot more fully handicap-accessible units than a regular apartment complex would, and all of them will be convertible.”
By convertible, Oury means that if a resident comes into a unit still able to walk but ends up needing a scooter or walker to get around as they age, the elements of the design will be able to accommodate their needs. Showers will be “zero-entry” — without walls or barriers to step over — and will include grab bars by default, for example.
By designing those units purposefully, Oury said there’s hope that it will extend residents’ ability to age in place for longer.
Without the need to acquire property, $3 million in ARPA aid can go a long way. Oury said that means there’s a lower cost per unit, and the entirety of the money can go toward construction. The LDCHA won’t need to worry about the cost of hiring maintenance staff or a property manager, either, since that staff already works on site at the existing Clinton Place property.
The goal of Clinton Place is to serve “extremely low income” seniors, which in the affordable housing realm is defined as 30% of the area’s median income. For a family of two, for example, that would mean their yearly income is at or below $22,700.
The elderly are an especially important demographic for the Housing Authority, Oury said. Of the 1,390 households it served in 2021, more than a third of them — 514 — were seniors. They had an average income of $17,085, with nearly 70% of them falling into the “extremely low income” category earning 30% or less of the area median income.
“So every time utilities go up, every time some cost goes up, living here in Douglas County is harder for all of our seniors,” Oury said. “Because they’re on a fixed income — they can’t get a raise.”
That high need isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, either. Right now, there’s a wait list of 150 people who’d be eligible for a unit at Clinton Place.
Plus, census data shows that the elderly — particularly folks in the baby boomer generation — make up the largest portion of the U.S. population, Oury said, and she expects the housing need for that demographic will only grow moving forward, not shrink. She said some on the national level are referring to it as a “silver tsunami.”
For now, Oury said it’s too early to give even a rough estimate for when the project might be finished, but she did voice some confidence in being able to do so quickly compared to other agencies that received ARPA funding.
“I think we’ll be the first to have units open to people,” Oury said. “One, we already own the land, right? We already have the proper zoning. We’re putting a (request for proposals) out for the architect this month or next and then we’ll go out to bid … We sort of came in pretty much ready to go.”
photo by: Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority
Oury said she was impressed with how the County Commission approached distributing ARPA dollars, acknowledging that it was a tough job with all the projects worthy of funding that were on the table. Plus, Oury said it was encouraging to see some focus on not just giving a minute amount of funding to everybody, but instead giving the funding necessary to get larger-scale projects over the finish line.
For other housing agencies that received ARPA dollars, like Tenants to Homeowners and Habitat for Humanity, it also illustrates that there was an interest in filling a need for more than just one type of housing. Tenants to Homeowners will be using its slice of the pie to eventually develop affordable housing with wrap-around support services, and Habitat for Humanity is aiming to develop an economically diverse community in west Lawrence.
The truth of the matter is there’s a need for affordable housing in all of those categories, Oury said, not just for elderly folks or any other single demographic. She said that if agencies make that a priority, it will make a difference for years to come.
“Edgewood Home and Babcock Place (two other LDCHA housing developments) were built 50 years ago, and thousands and thousands of people have lived in these units,” Oury said. “Fifty years from now, this work of leadership will still be giving back to this community, because all of us are going to put a deed restriction on our properties to say ‘You can only house affordable.’”