A wide range of new senior housing options are emerging as developers and Minneapolis leaders try to appeal to a growing number of retirees who want to spend their golden years close to city amenities.

“It’s something that people within this community have wanted for a long time,” said Cindy Booker, executive director of Sabathani Community Center, which has proposed a senior-focused facility on a lot behind its existing building.

The growing array of new senior housing is part of Minneapolis’ long-range goal of retaining and attracting new residents. City officials are boosting their efforts to spur senior-focused development by pushing hard for existing projects and eyeing new sites for future senior housing facilities.

“We’re making pretty good progress,” said Andrea Brennan, the city’s leader of housing policy and development. “We will continue to pursue any and all opportunities that present themselves or seem reasonable.”

The city is seeing more senior units with a range of prices, locations and amenities. Many of the new facilities have modern designs, featuring brick facades, ample glass and lush landscaping. They often offer easy access to transit, restaurants and medical facilities.

Construction on downtown’s Mill City Quarter project, which includes a five-story assisted-living facility with more than 100 affordable units for seniors, is set to begin in the next month. Meanwhile, seniors have been lining up to fill the Hi-Lake Triangle apartment complex in the East Phillips neighborhood and the Cooperage Senior Housing in the Seward neighborhood since those sites opened last year.

Those three projects received city approval after the 2013 launch of a City Council-sponsored initiative to develop 35 new senior housing projects citywide by 2025. And with emerging proposals ranging from converting the historic Ceresota building in the Mill District to potentially expanding a south Minneapolis community center, the rapidly developing market for affordable senior housing is making significant headway in meeting the city’s goal. Looking unit by unit, Minneapolis is already more than halfway to its goal.

Many of the proposals are designed to lure people who may have raised their families in the suburbs, but who are now looking to spend more time in the city.

A proposal to build a senior-focused facility on a vacant lot behind Sabathani Community Center would accommodate seniors who currently commute from the surrounding suburbs for the center’s services.

Loring Park could see 58 new units, pending city approval, under St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral’s direction in the coming years. The Prospect Park neighborhood — grappling with the rippling effects of the booming luxury apartment trend near the University of Minnesota — has expressed interest in joining the affordable senior housing trend.

The need for all types of affordable housing has received increased attention at City Hall in recent years, as new council members campaigned on the issue in 2013 and supporters have pushed for putting more public dollars toward the problem.

Proposals for low-income senior housing complexes often require financial support from multiple agencies and levels of government, and garnering those funds during the projects’ planning stages can be a challenge.

“The city can’t do it alone, so other non-city sources of funding are typically required,” Brennan said. “And those funds are limited.”

Lower land costs often make suburbs more attractive to developers looking to build senior housing compared to urban areas that can constrain projects, said Humphrey School of Public Affairs professor Edward Goetz, who specializes in urban planning and housing policy.

“There’s only so much land in the city,” he said, “and there are only so many opportunities for development and redevelopment.”

Minneapolis Council Member Cam Gordon said it can be tough to persuade developers to build in the city.

“[Developers] seem to be willing to go out and invest millions … in the suburbs,” Gordon said. “But we haven’t seen a lot of interest in trying to find the right spot in Minneapolis.”

Sparking the interest of developers and project funders will be key if Minneapolis is to reach its goals.

“Right now, we’re really not there,” said Council Member Jacob Frey, whose district includes much of downtown, Nicollet Island and northeast Minneapolis. “While we’re making strong efforts to get to a place where you can age in place, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

 

Jessica Lee is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.