The variety of senior housing options has come a long way since the nursing home. Today there are choices. There is independent living, usually a senior apartment complex with amenities, which may include a golf course and pool. And there is assisted living, where residents live independently in their own apartment but have meals provided plus access to a 24 hour staff if they need help with dressing, bathing or transportation to appointments.
But not all of these housing options are offered in rural areas, where the elderly currently comprise 15% of the rural population – versus 12% in urban areas.
Community leaders in rural Illinois wanted housing options for the seniors -- particularly the low-income seniors. As Nancy Crowfoot reports there efforts have helped not only their Seniors but the local economy as well.
In the southern tip of Illinois, between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, lies one of the poorest areas of the state. In one four-county area, 77% of the elderly have an annual income below $15,000. Of the Medicaid-eligible frail seniors, 30% live in substandard housing.
Social services and health agencies, which provided in-home care to many seniors, saw a need for elderly housing options in addition to existing nursing homes. They saw a need for affordable assisted living housing.
When no private companies came to town to build … they formed their own housing development corporation … and built their own low-income assisted living facilities.
Patsy Jensen, Director, River to River Residential Corporation: " We aren't so profit-oriented. We are service oriented and so our mission lends itself in terms of providing health and social services in a rural community, drove us in the direction of assisted living."
While the local health and social services providers knew they could provide the care … they also knew they didn't have the financial resources to build facilities.
Patsy Jensen, Director, River To River Corporation,
Carterville, Illinois: "We always are looking at avenues of developing resources."
So they sought out various entities for money. Financial help came from a foundation in Chicago, the Illinois Housing Development Authority, a nonprofit hospital network, and a Development Corporation's rural elderly housing program called "Coming Home." The local providers … and local bankers … also learned about Low Income Housing Tax Credits.
Steve Schauwecker, Senior Vice President, Old National Bank, Carbondale, Illinois:
"The wrinkle to the whole thing were these tax credits. They were a new concept that we had to become knowledgeable on."
Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits are allocated by each state to use for affordable housing projects. The limited partnership – the two banks providing $2.2 (M) million dollars in equity -- receive tax credits with a value of $3.6 (M) million dollars over ten years.
Steve Schauwecker, banker:
"But the key was, to make the project cash flow, was you needed to have a substantial amount of equity and what made the investors want to put in that equity was the fact they would receive those tax credits."
Steve Schauwecker says his bank kept its portion of the tax credits to use to reduce its federal income tax. He says, the tax reduction is basically in lieu of making money from a low-income housing project.
The national average cost to reside in an assisted living facility – which generally provides a 24 hour staff, meals, housekeeping and helps tenants with daily activities like dressing and bathing -- can exceed $2,000 a month. At the Cache Valley assisted living apartments in Ullin, Illinois, the rent for a studio apartment is $330 a month --- and for a one bedroom, $420.
To increase the income of the facility, office space and common areas such as the kitchen and dining room are leased to the health care provider that works in the building.
In August of 1997, the doors were opened and the 40 apartments were rented within five months. Today, there is a waiting list of 40.
Patsy Jensen, Director, River To River Residential Corporation: "If we could be successful in Ullin, a town of 500, then we'd know we could do this in other rural communities."
It is a success now, but there were obstacles to overcome before building. Ullin's antiquated water system could not support a new large apartment complex. Town leaders, including the mayor, didn't initially want to give up the revenue, or control, of having their own water system.
Mike DeWitt, Ullin mayor: "We had to change our water system to a regional water system. We had a controversy on that but if Ullin was ever going to grow, we had to get a more production out of our water system and we couldn't do it ourselves."
Ullin obtained a $475,000 grant to hook up to the regional water system. The new water system not only ensured the assisted living project would be built in their community, but also enabled the town to recruit other employers ... including a detention center.
Other towns have seen Ullin's success and want the same. For example, 16 miles north of Ullin, the town of Anna wants to renovate an abandoned school to an affordable assisted living facility. Town leaders obtained a grant to hire a full-time person to research the possibility and find creative ways to finance the effort.
Cheryl Guetersloh, Assisted Living Project Coordinator, Anna, Illinois: "We're trying to get it on the historic registry and if we do, that qualifies us for historic tax credits."
The town of Anna is one of six River To River projects in the research stages. Another town, Herrin, is in the construction phase … and in Murphysboro, an assisted living facility opened in August of 1998.
All of the River to River low-income housing projects were built with some federal financial incentives, but they all stand as a prime symbol of a local initiative. It is basically that local backing, that brought banker Steve Shauwecker to the table.
Steve Schauwecker, banker: "Because of the people involved with that, that made us feel more like a team.
People that are involved with it as an investment purpose that don't have roots in our community or may not have a long-term concern about what we're trying to accomplish—more as an investment goal than a service goal—that would have affected our decision."
The decision has meant "affordable," assisted living for many low-income elderly in rural southern Illinois.
The River to River Residential Corporation has now expanded its assisted living to incorporate higher priced, "market-rate" apartments in all its facilities … for middle and upper income residents.
It is an attempt to meet the needs of all the elderly in the area … and an opportunity, for those who desire it, to return to their roots.
Patsy Jensen: "Some of the more positive things and we actually see people who may have gone to other communities to work and actually grew up in southern Illinois are coming back home.
For Market to Market, I'm Nancy Crowfoot.