Carol Kennedy and Tom Powers want to grow old in their south Minneapolis neighborhood. It’s where they raised two children, made lasting friendships and walk to their dentist, restaurants and the local credit union.
But the big unknown is whether they can stay in the city as they anticipate leaving their two-story Tudor before they encounter health problems. Couples just like them have already fled to the suburbs after not finding adequate senior-oriented housing within the city limits. It’s why Powers and Kennedy pushed — unsuccessfully — for a new senior project that was pitched for their neighborhood.
“We love Minneapolis,” Kennedy, 68, said over coffee at their dining room table recently.
The future shortage of senior housing as baby boomers get older is a growing concern for leaders at City Hall who are striving to retain the existing population and simultaneously add new residents. The City Council launched a new initiative last year aimed at spurring a new senior development in all 13 wards by 2025, a process they are backing with special pots of money and a map of ideal sites.
“I consider it to be one of the most important issues facing Minneapolis moving into the next couple of decades,” said Tom Streitz, the city’s recently departed director of housing policy. “Because we know the population trends, we know Minneapolis is growing, and we know that we’re going to age.”
Development of luxury apartments is booming in Minneapolis, but senior housing has failed to keep up with the suburbs. Providing senior options is likely to benefit other age groups, however, since it also frees up single-family homes for new families. Land and money pose significant challenges for developers interested in building urban senior projects.
Public funding for affordable senior projects is harder to come by than traditional affordable housing, and different senior buildings must serve a wide array of income levels, ages and medical needs. Suburban senior campuses have accommodated this on cheap, vacant land — a rare commodity in an urban setting.
The city has identified hot spots of transportation, health care, shopping and jobs to woo developers into the urban core, where walkable city amenities can replace the more self-contained suburban campus. Clinics and hospitals peppered around the city form the basis for “potential service cluster” areas on the intricate, multicolored map. “We’re trying to develop a unique urban model of senior living,” said Wes Butler, the city’s manager of residential finance.
‘Feels like home’
One of the newest developments is Minnehaha Senior Living, an assisted-living facility that sits beside a nursing facility, a dance studio, a health food store and legal offices at the corner of 38th Street and 23rd Avenue S. It’s served by three bus lines and is located several blocks from the Blue Line light-rail station, though few residents at this facility use it due to their advanced age.
On a recent afternoon, residents were playing card games, reading the newspaper and designing Easter wreaths on the main floor of the 77-unit complex.
Dorothy Hentz, 89, cut the ribbon when it opened several years ago. She says that it “feels like home” and that it was important for her to stay in the city. “My family lives here,” she said.
But younger seniors want more independence than a typical assisted-living facility provides. The uber-rich can buy luxury condominiums downtown, but others are eyeing more cost-effective cooperative communities that offer apartment-style living along with the freedom to modify and upgrade units. Those are rare in Minneapolis, and a failed proposal near Lake Nokomis shows the challenges of developing them in a built-out environment.
Several years ago, United Properties wanted to build an Applewood Pointe co-op on the former site of Northrop Elementary School. Many residents, including Kennedy and Powers, signed up for units, but the deal fell through because the city would not offer a tax subsidy to demolish a building and clear the land. A subsequent proposal to use the existing building instead lost out to a charter school.
As a result, Minneapolis lost Keewaydin neighborhood residents Ed and Ardie Hollenbeck to an Applewood Pointe property in Roseville this September. They now enjoy an attractive 1,800-square-foot unit with two bedrooms, a deck and access to a nearby lake.
But after 30 years of living in Minneapolis, where destinations like their church and a food shelf where Ed volunteers were close by, the couple left with a heavy heart. “All of our things we do were in that neighborhood,” Ardie Hollenbeck said “So the thought for me of leaving that was not high on my list.”
The city of Roseville provided tax-increment financing to help build the Applewood Pointe facility, but Minneapolis is less forthcoming with using the tax subsidy for market rate, nonrental developments.
“The city’s role is in a matchmaking [capacity] as opposed to being a funder,” said Council Member John Quincy, who represents the area of the Northrop site and chairs the council’s Ways and Means Committee. “Is it fair to property taxpayers to say we’re going to give this project $1 million worth of property tax abatement over a period of 30 years?”
More city tools are available to help build rental properties geared toward low-income seniors. The city pledged last year to set aside 30 percent of its affordable housing trust fund, about $3 million a year, to help build senior rental housing.
It also plans to use a set amount of its bonding authority to help senior housing projects obtain low interest rates. That funding is important, since state low-income housing tax credits are not typically geared toward new senior housing and federal funds are less plentiful than they once were.
“We would build senior projects in Minneapolis all day if we could,” said Amanda Novak with CommonBond Communities, which specializes in affordable housing development and management. “We are resource constrained; that’s why we don’t build more.”
Novak added that projects her group has opened in Minneapolis with federal subsidies to lower rents have filled up in one day.
“The general problem we see is that no level of government is focused on financing or funding senior housing,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman, who chairs the council’s community development committee. “And as a result, we become the only partner in the deal. And then the developers can never make the numbers work.”
Tom Melchior, director of market research with CliftonLarsonAllen, said new, more-service-intensive senior housing largely won’t be needed until after 2021 — when the oldest boomers turn 75. He said that’s the best target for city resources, rather than under-75 alternative housing driven by people’s choice to move.
Kennedy and Powers aren’t sure what the future holds. But had their neighborhood senior facility been built, Powers said, “You’d be talking to us at a different address now.”