Cedar Street Senior Apartment project celebrates 10 year anniversary

The Cedar Street Senior Apartments in Garberville just celebrated 10 years of operation and they hope to keep going strong.

The apartments are located on the north end of town adjacent to Jerold Phelps Community Hospital, Humboldt County Services building and the library.

At a recent Garberville Rotary Club meeting, apartment complex manager Patti Rose talked about the past, present and future of this much-needed project.

Construction History

The complex was built in two phases because of funding availability and they look very much alike. Most people don’t realize there are two separate facilities owned by two separate nonprofit corporations. Community meetings were held at the Healy Senior Center in Redway to plan the design for the project and guide the architect and engineer about features in the Southern Humboldt area.

The original development was planned for Melville Road at the south end of Garberville, the site of the new apartments currently under construction. In 1998 the Garberville Rotary Club assisted with efforts to work out the funding to purchase and develop that parcel, but it didn’t happen.

As funding applications were being submitted Southern Humboldt Senior Care, Inc. (SHSC), the developer and nonprofit corporation got Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding from the county to improve the water and sewer connections to the site. That was in 2000.

Rose said, "Since the construction had to be done in phases the project had to split the parcel in two and get legal agreements about easements, maintenance, etc. with the neighboring property owners and get those approved. That was 2001. Amazingly enough, the first project was completed in 2003 without ever having a HUD inspector come from SF until completion."

The final approval and opening were delayed several months because the project had involved the community in helping plant the landscaping. The project leaders’ inexperience with HUD standards cost them several months as the landscaping contractor had to come back in and redo all of the community volunteers’ hard work. Over the course of time, some construction work was found that probably would not have been allowed if HUD had been on site more often.

There are 10 units in Phase 1 (Cedar Street Senior Apartments) and 10 units plus a maintenance worker apartment on site in Phase 2 (703 Cedar). The apartments are one-bedroom, one-bath and are equipped with propane heat, a water heater and stove and an electric refrigerator. Almost all the apartments are 540 square feet and on the ground floor. There is one lucky senior who lives above the community recreation room and laundry room. All of the units have wider doorways and senior-friendly thresholds with two emergency pull cords in each unit.

Two of the units were built especially for a senior using a wheelchair with roll-under sinks and two units have special design features for visually or hearing impaired people. They have a shrieking strobe light doorbell, Braille on the stove knobs and highlighted doorframes. Residents share a two-washer/two-dryer laundry room located in the Helen Tobin recreation room. The rec room also has a large-screen TV with VCR and DVD player and comfy chairs.

Phase 1 was completed August 2003. Phase 2 was completed in September 2005. Each has funding from HUD, the state HOME Investment Program and the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Housing Program. Rose explained that all of these programs come with books full of regulations and compliance requirements meant to ensure that the properties will be in good working order for at least 30 years. The property is inspected about every three years by HUD and the state with minor repairs usually required.

Highlights of the construction of Phase 2 from 2003-2005 included the mountain of dirt excavated from Phase 1 that needed to be removed. Monthly meetings were held with the HUD inspector, DANCO builders and the architect during construction. One significant delay occurred during the final inspection when all 11 bedroom windows were found to have been installed eight inches higher than code allowed for fire safety. This was after the architect, engineer, county, HUD, the contractor and others approved the plans that had been inspected multiple times during construction.

Resident Requirements

The complex is subsidized by HUD in a program called Section 202 PRAC (Project Rental Assistance Contract.) It is similar to the Section 8 program but is specifically for seniors 62 and older who are very low income. Very low income means 50% or less of the county median income. For 2014 that is $20,150 a year, or $1,680 a month. Many of the residents receive less than $900 through SSI.

HUD values the apartments at $673 for Phase 1 and $687 for Phase 2. Of those amounts, residents pay from $135 to $419 per month. There has been a resident who paid $0 for rent and HUD paid the utility allowance for her of $71 to PG&E until she was able to get SSI.

HUD’s policy is that residents should pay no more than 30% of their adjusted gross income in rent. Resident income, asset and medical expenses are verified annually and their rent is adjusted. If they have a decrease in income or an increase in medical expenses of $200/month, there is an interim recertification to adjust their rent mid-year.

Residents are responsible for their own propane, electrical, telephone, TV and Internet service costs. They are assisted with access to CARE, HEAP and REACH energy assistance and Lifeline telephone applications. Garbage, water and sewer service is provided at no cost to the residents.

There is currently a waiting list of about 50 people. There is a tenant selection plan that is approved by HUD that outlines the acceptance criteria for credit, criminal background, and landlord history. An applicant who applied in 2011 is currently under revue for the one vacancy available.

There are currently 16 women and four men, plus Kevin Wilson, who is the maintenance worker and his wife, Beth. There are four veterans. About 12 of the residents are local seniors and seven moved here to be close to family. The youngest resident is 69 and the oldest is 89 (going on 90 this month). Most are in their seventies. There are two residents of the original 10 in Phase 1 and three original residents in Phase 2.

Some of the residents have family who come in regularly to help with cleaning, laundry, shopping, and transportation to doctor visits. A few have IHSS helpers who work for a certain number of hours. Some need those but want to continue on their own for as long as they can. Assistance in accessing IHSS is available, and help with telephoning automated systems that really frustrate them. One resident quipped, "I don’t speak robot." Several have hearing problems and ask for help talking with intake staff.

Management by CCH

Each project has a board of directors - Diane Lehman, Dian Pecora, Christina Huff, Ray Wilcox, Sharon Toborg, and Ted Madsen, who have worked with the projects steadily for many years.

The project has a contract with Christian Church Homes or CCH, a property management company located in Oakland that has been managing properties for over 50 years, with 56 properties in six states. They interface with HUD and submit the information about the residents electronically to collect the subsidies. They receive invoices sent by Rose and pay the bills, gather the financial information and provide monthly financial reports. They prepare the audit and submit the tax forms.

Rose said, "I can call whenever I face a new situation and they will advise."

In addition to that they provide monthly trainings via Internet conferencing on compliance (the latest from HUD), maintenance (like lead based paint, carbon monoxide poisoning, and preventative maintenance topics), and human resources with tips for good supervision, goal setting, evaluation and handling situations that come up in staffing. Rose said they have recently changed the web-based system used for certifications and recording the maintenance activities to Real Page, a system used by many property managers in the affordable and commercial world. CCH has trained all the staff at all their properties in its use.

CCH’s mission is one Rose really values: provide quality, affordable housing in a caring community. "It encourages us to look for ways to comply with HUD rules and regs and to find ways of helping the people who live here do as well as they can," she said.

Daily Life

Rose said, "A typical day for me includes a lot of variety. My door is always open to listen to residents. The first of the month, residents bring their rent, I make deposits and report them to CCH. Most days there are small maintenance requests that go onto work orders for Kevin. When the mail comes there are bills and requests for applications. I usually spend time printing the ‘request for verification’ forms to gather the information from the bank/credit union, pharmacy, doctors, etc. for certifications and recording them when they come back.

"Kevin and I have regular meetings to plan for projects, keep track of maintenance issues and to cover safety topics. I sometimes need to remind a resident of a house rule (like keeping your pet under control or keeping a safe access on the porch). We start with talking about it and sometimes it needs to be a written lease violation.

"As you might imagine, living close together sometimes leads to neighbor complaints. I try to mediate those and address them before they become serious. Respectfulness is the basis for all of the rules."

Rose said this last year has been interesting. They have been dealing with the homeless travelers who hang out behind the library and who go into the gully. They are hoping the county will install gates to keep vehicles from parking there when the library is closed. Rose said they appreciate the increased attention the sheriff has paid in patrolling the area. And, the conservation camp crew came in to clear the berries and brush away from the fence along the gully as fire protection.

Many of the residents are interested in gardening and had overwhelmed the landscaping in front of their apartments with potted plants of all shapes and sizes. To try to address the concern that they might trip walking on the ground cover plants to water their potted plants, they built large garden boxes under the Grandma Oak Tree last spring. Enthusiastic residents - novice vegetable gardeners - planted as many tomato plants with a sprinkling of greens, eggplant, strawberries and squash as they could fit. Then the plants grew and grew into a 4’ wall of tomatoes. Each resident who wanted a plot cared for the plants and harvested the fruits. This had the added advantage of increasing communication between residents and more food for the rest. They hope to learn from last year and grow another good garden this summer.

Rose said, "One highlight for me was working with a resident who wanted to become an American citizen. She studied and practiced and read to me to prepare for the interview and examination. She passed with flying colors and because of her new citizenship, is now receiving a reliable income from SSI."

The big challenge for 2014 will be becoming a smoke-free facility. The board and CCH have decided to follow HUD’s encouragement to transition to smoke-free apartments and to keep smoking off the site. The residents were surveyed. There are several who smoke and Rose said they will be encouraging them to look into quitting but will grandfather them in.

Rose said, "Everyone who is on the waiting list will be informed of the new policy and asked whether they can comply with the policy. I have signs to post provided by the County Public Health Department and will be having residents sign new leases and House Rules in February.

"HUD has been encouraging this for some time as they see the huge difference in cost to refurbish an apartment after a smoker moves. In our experience, preparing the unit of a long-time smoking resident who had less than $200 in security deposits cost us more than $1,000 and a month of lost rent. HUD also sees the trend in other facilities like hospitals, restaurants, and motels. We want to follow their lead before they mandate it."

Goals for the year include WI-FI for all and bus service that really meets the need.

They would also like to start the transition in Phase 2 to develop backyards. There is a storm drain swale along the fence line of the property. The plan is to install drainpipes and fill in the swale this year. They will be looking into the costs of replacing the bedroom windows with sliding glass doors and pouring small patio pads in the next couple of years.

For Cedar Street, they have a goal of correcting a construction design flaw that they noticed last year when the current maintenance worker walked the property.

Rose said, "Some residents complained that stuff they had on their front porches got wet when it rained... well, low and behold, the roofs above the patios are two-feet short of covering the patio. It isn’t real visible because of the lattice decorations, but the roofs don’t cover the patio. Kevin is working on a retrofit to extend the roofs to solve the problem.

"We are also planning a fire extinguisher practice in April. We started replacing the extinguishers that came with the units last year with a smaller, more manageable type but want to give everyone a hands on exercise."

Rose said she is also planning a meeting with Karl from the Housing Assistance Council to discuss planning for another project, starting with a housing market study.

She said, "I am sure that more events and adventures will present themselves. As we join for potlucks and resident meetings, new concerns arise. We appreciate the ways our churches and service clubs think of the seniors at the apartments to help out with gifts during the holidays, social gatherings, planting daffodils, and offering to help with transportation."

REDWOOD TIMES PHOTO BY SUSAN GARDNER

Patti Rose, who is the manager of the Cedar Street Senior Apartments spoke at a recent Rotary Club meeting held at the Healy Senior Center in Redway.

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