The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority used to have to kick out senior residents when memory problems made them too difficult to manage.
Now the agency has a home for them, in what executive director Cora McCorvey calls a unique complex that she hopes can become a model for the nation.
Last month, Thomas T. Feeney Manor opened in north Minneapolis with 24 units for memory care residents and 24 units of enhanced assisted living apartments. This month, a senior services health and wellness center will open next door, which will include a senior-oriented YMCA, health clinic, senior day program and programs run by the Courage Center.
"We've just walked into heaven for Mom and Dad," said Deb Starling, whose parents, Barbara and Bob Anderson, both 84 years old, moved into an enhanced assisted living apartment Feb. 14. "There was no way they could afford this."
McCorvey recalls her days as a property manager decades ago when an elderly woman resident would come down to a dining hall wearing only a slip. Without a staff or facilities to care for people with memory deficits, the agency had to find those people somewhere else to live. But McCorvey said she was not impressed by some of the nursing homes where those former public housing residents ended up.
"It was always something gnawing at me that there has got to be something we can do to help these vulnerable seniors," she said. So when Congress included competitive grants in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, McCorvey encouraged her staff to develop proposals for the authority to create their own facilities. The applications to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) were coordinated by Bob Boyd, the public housing authority's director of policy and special initiatives.
Together, the two facilities cost $27 million. The housing facility is named after Feeney, the director of the Minnesota office of HUD from 1971 to 2004. He died in 2010.
The buildings do not have the drab, sterile look of some of the housing authority's 1960s high-rises. The interiors of the apartments and open spaces are airy and carefully finished. The rotunda of the senior services center features a sweeping curved staircase.
The two facilities, plus a third 102-unit apartment building built in 2006, make up the Heritage Park Senior Services Center, believed by local officials to be unique among 3,200 U.S. public housing agencies.
McCorvey says she is particularly proud of the partnerships that the housing authority brokered, which have made the senior campus possible:
• Augustana Care, a nonprofit, faith-based organization that operates nursing homes and a range of senior facilities, will operate Feeney Manor (located at 901 4th Ave N.) and a day program that will be housed in the senior center.
• The YMCA will operate the fitness center and will conduct exercise courses for seniors with certified trainers. The Y will be available to residents on site and seniors in the community.
• Courage Center, the nonprofit rehabilitation and resource center, will provide physical, occupational and speech therapy as well as aquatic physical therapy and recreational pool activities. The specialized pool is one of only four in the state.
• Neighborhood HealthSource, which operates Fremont Clinic in north Minneapolis, will offer a full-service clinic with programs and treatments tailored to the needs of the elderly.
• The Minneapolis Highrise Representative Council, a tenant organization that represents 5,000 households in 41 public housing high-rises, will have offices at the senior service center.
Feeney Manor is heated and cooled through geothermal green technology, with 200-foot-deep geothermal wells under a parking lot. Ten percent of Feeney Manor's electricity comes from rooftop solar panels.
To be eligible for Feeney Manor, a person must be 55 or older, have a low income, need additional care and otherwise qualify for public housing. Rent is 30 percent of a person's income, up to $535. Feeney Manor does not have an around-the-clock registered nurse on site, so some people, such as those using a 24-hour ventilator, cannot live there.
Before they moved to Feeney Manor, Barbara and Bob Anderson were living on a minimal income and had difficulty living at home. Bob has trouble walking, and Barbara has Parkinson's disease and uses a wheelchair.
Sitting in the Andersons' new apartment, Bob, a retired advertising man who used to operate projectors at local movie theaters, was wearing a Gophers cap and surrounded with U memorabilia.
"I think it's marvelous," he said of his apartment. "Everything works. ... Everyone is very friendly and helpful. We couldn't ask for better service. They bring meals to our room."
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224