More than 1,500 people age 55 or older are on the Dakota County Community Development Agency’s waiting list for affordable housing — a number that keeps growing even as the agency opens more apartment buildings for seniors.

“The percentage of seniors in our county continues to grow every year with the number of baby boomers out there,” said Kari Gill, acting executive director at the community development agency (CDA), which runs 27 affordable senior housing apartments in the county.

The CDA has been building senior housing nearly every year since 1990 through its Senior Housing Program for residents who meet move-in requirements, including income limits and the ability live independently.

The agency dedicated its newest building, called Hillcrest Pointe, with a ceremony Aug. 6. The 66-unit building is one of three CDA senior housing buildings in Inver Grove Heights. It offers amenities like club and community rooms, shared laundry facilities, underground parking and an exercise room.

“We are a little bit different than the market rate developers that have a higher end amenity coupling,” Gill said. “We have a very nice building and a very nice unit and the price is affordable, so we’re in a little bit different market niche.”

Most of the one- and two-bedroom apartments at Hillcrest Pointe are being rented at a flat rate below the average cost to rent apartments in the area. Six of the units will be rented at the market rate for Inver Grove Heights, but residents won’t have to meet an income limit to rent those apartments.

Earlier this year, the CDA also broke ground on a building in Rosemount. That 60-unit building will be called Cambrian Commons and is expected to be finished in 2016. All 60 of the apartments are already reserved, Gill said.

The CDA is slated to begin construction on a senior apartment building in Lakeville next year as well. Still, the waiting list keeps growing, Gill said.

“We often get a whole new group of people interested in our housing every time we open a new building,” she said.

Growing demand

The need for affordable senior housing in Dakota County is expected to grow over the next 15 years, according to a 2013 study by Maxfield Research commissioned by the CDA. The number of residents over 55 will more than double between 2010 and 2030, the study estimates.

Meanwhile, low rental vacancy rates in Dakota County and inflation have pushed rent and other living costs up, said Eric Gentry, director of housing at Community Action Partnership of Scott, Carver and Dakota Counties.

Gentry has seen Dakota County residents of all ages struggle to pay more for living expenses like insurance, prescriptions, food and gas, as well as rent. “When you have someone who has to pay almost 50 percent of their income toward rent, it’s a challenge to juggle all of those things and make it work,” he said.

Retirees, who tend to make less money than they did when working full-time, feel the burden of rising housing costs in the area, Gill said. Creating affordable housing helps lift that burden off families.

“Anyone that has been through this with their own parents at all, they know how important it is to feel that their parents are living in a safe place and are around other people,” Gill said.

Though demand is high and projected to increase, the CDA doesn’t plan to build affordable senior-living apartments indefinitely, Gill said. The program was meant to have three building phases with 10 buildings in each phase.

The CDA is nearing the end of the third phase, and the agency may revisit the need for more housing in coming years, Gill said. But maintenance costs will also be a factor in the program’s future.

“One thing that is really important to us is trying to keep all of the buildings that we have in really good shape and keeping them in a place that people want to live,” Gill said.

 

Janice Bitters is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.