Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Community Meeting: Info on Columbia Senior Housing proposed (Fuqua Phase III, Scott Blvd)

Representatives from Columbia Residential met with the community to discuss their proposed development on Scott Blvd on April 14, 2016. ~20 people attended the meeting. This project would be part of Fuqua's Phase III Bill Aiken, representing Fuqua Development, was also present.

The senior housing building would sit within the development. The frontage on Scott Blvd. would be occupied by retail and the senior development would be located behind these businesses and serviced by a private street (open to the public but private in the sense it is not a state or county road). Greenspace is being planned adjacent to the development (see below).

The senior residential structure is highlighted in yellow. Greenspace is designated to its right.

Jim Grauley (President and COO)  and Joseph Evans (Project Manager) discussed the development in the context of other similar projects. Columbia Residential was founded in 1991 and is the most active senior development company in Georgia. They have developed over 50 communities in Georgia, Texas and Louisiana (see their website for more information on those). They build the facility, then continue to manage it. A slide show highlighted some of Columbia projects in Georgia and elsewhere ( download pdf).

The company focuses on the senior market, where they see very strong demand. Columbia uses a funding model that allows them to develop communities with multiple price points. That means that while some units are rented "at market" (same monthly rate as any other similar unit in the area would garner), many others are reserved for individuals whose verified income meets the subsidized rate. Columbia Senior Residences at Edgewood  and Columbia Residences at Forrest Hills were offered as examples of nearby facilities developed under this model.

The proposed development would be for seniors aged 62 and over and would offer 90 1-bedroom units, approximately 700 sq ft in size. Columbia would offer annual leases and residents can stay as long as desired and as long as they are capable of safely residing independently. This is not an assisted living facility, but is designed with senior need in mind, offering amenities that seniors want (exercise facilities, common areas, etc.). The property management also reaches out to local organizations that serve seniors to better utilize existing services (that may mean bringing those services to the property, or bringing residents to those activities elsewhere).

Our area is considered a prime location for a development like this: demand is high, the area is served by public transport, and there are shopping opportunities nearby as well as medical providers.

Financing model:  Columbia Residential is currently working on securing funding for this project. The subsidized part of the development depends on securing low income tax credits. Columbia will present a proposal to our state government. If awarded, these tax credits can be sold to companies who have large tax burdens. The resulting payments create the financing necessary to build the development. This model creates a multi-decade commitment: there is a 15-year period where the initial tax credit commitment is liquidated by those who purchased the tax credits, then another 15 year period. They would have a 20-year affordability commitment with DeKalb County that fits within the above 30-year plan. At the end of that ~30-year period, Columbia would be free to redevelop the property (outside the senior housing model); however, their model is to retain ownership and reinvest.

Columbia representatives believe this project to be very competitive.

Questions from the audience:

Q: How are tenants qualified?
A: There would be 3 levels:
- market rate: no restrictions in income. The monthly rate is what is typical for the area.
- subsidized: 15% of units would fall under this category
- most units would be rented at the "tax credit rate"-- these are for renters who have very limited income and would have to verify their income falls within the 50-60% median level for this area.

These income levels  are determined by the Housing and Urban Development department of the federal government.

Screening is based on credit history, income check, housing inspection and background checks.  If a resident's income changes, they would not be asked to leave, but their rent would need to be recalculated.

Q: Size of units? Parking?
A: The units will be ~700 sq ft. There will be a 4,000 sq ft facility for amenities and leasing. There will be 45 parking slots in a parking facility that is underground and barely visible from the street. An additional 13 parking slots are available around the building.
Q: Is that enough parking?
A: Yes. Many residents will not have cars. This ratio of resident to parking spot seems to work very well for areas where public transit is available. Columbia is very constrained by the size of the parcel. There would be elevators at both ends of the building.

Q: What is the income level for eligibility to subsidized rent?
A: Per HUD tables for our area, income for 1 person is ~$30K. 60% of that would mean eligibility is set for an annual income of ~$20K/yr.
Q: Are there asset restrictions?
A: Yes, this is factored into the income review. If anyone is over the allowed level, they would have to pay the market rate.

They are only able to offer 1-bedroom units to maximize the number of units. DeKalb County wanted them to build more.

Q: Will there be balconies?
A: They are working on zoning, their application would be due in June. If they are successful, they will have that information by the end of the year, at which point they would develop the full design for the building.

Q: What is the recapitalization process?
There is an initial 15 year period of compliance then another additional 15 years, meaning, the facility would be available for at least 30 years. Investors usually exit at the 15 year mark but because the facilities are well maintained, Columbia usually refinances remaining debt and refreshes the site and makes capital improvements.

Q: What services are available for residents?Activities? Health care?
A: The property manager (staff member) serves as liaison or facilitator to better utilize resources available at local hospitals, county senior centers, etc.

They would try to incorporate a bus or shuttle stop to make public transportation more accessible.

Q: What happens when residents need more help?
A:  Yes, this is very difficult. Through their experience with previous developments, they are getting better at identifying when people need help and getting the resident's family involved in the discussion. They have also learned about designing for more accessibility and  serving the needs of those who may be vision or hearing-impaired. Sometimes, residents are reticent to move because they won't get the value they receive at Columbia if they move elsewhere (different kind of facility).

Q: How about scooters, motorized vehicles? Crossing busy roads? Have you considered walkways to connect to nearby amenities?
A: This is an ongoing issue for the area. They are in discussions with Fuqua and the county to improve crossings: longer lights, audible signaling?

T. Same (MANA zoning chair) added that the North DeKalb Cross-Neighborhoods Committee has worked very hard to add wide (8-10 foot) sidewalks around this development. When negotiating with developers, the Committee emphasizes articulating commitments to the County to develop sidewalks. Sidewalks throughout all phases of Fuqua's development will provide internal connectivity.

Mr. Grauley added that crossings will be very obvious in the development's private roads.

Q: Greenspace?
A: There is greenspace set aside in the Fuqua development* and Columbia has been working to adjust their building positioning to increase the park's size. Columbia would be responsible for maintaining landscaping around its building as well as maintaining this park's greenspace. The park will be open to the public.

Q: 700 sq ft seems very small. Do the layouts take accessibility into consideration?
A: Most units are similar in size to 1-bedroom units in the area.  The key dimensions they consider is the interior distance to hallway: 30 feet allows for a full-size kitchen and small table. Turn radius allows for accessibility and units are ADA compliant. 10 units will have full access "roll-in showers." Square footage is constrained by cost and the # units needed to make the development viable.

Mr. Grauley also said there would be a hospitality suite for guests and family members, with no kitchen, that is available for guests to reserve. The unit would be furnished, includes a full-size bath,  and would be maintained by Columbia Residential. This  unit would be available free of charge.

They anticipate the units will be built to either LEED or EarthCraft standards.

Q: Will there be on-site assistance 24-7?
A: No, but there will be a call system and pull cords (that alerts others in the building that there is an issue). Staff check on the residents but, again, this is an independent living facility.

Q: Eligibility age?
62 and over. Eligibility in this type of development can start at 55 yrs. but there is higher demand for 62+. Also, everyone in the household must be 62 and older.

Q: Washer and dryer facilities?
A: Yes, in units as well as in a common laundry area.

Q: Balconies?
A: There will be an opportunity for community input during the design phase.

Q: Is the theater room the primary gathering area?
A: It is the secondary gathering area. Separate seats allow accommodating wheelchairs. There are flexible rooms that allow for larger gatherings.

Q: What is the market rate? Lease conditions?
A: They will do 1-year leases. Income is re-certified annually. There is low turn-over. They are working on a market study right now.
For those eligible, the utility allowance allows utility costs to be subtracted from income (residents pay utilities). They expect that the one-bedroom unites would rent in the high $600 - low $700 rate.
For Forest Hills (in Decatur), the market rate is $1150. There is very high demand: for 80-90 units, they may receive 1000 applications

Q: Independent living is rarely truly independent... Annual recertification process are used to assess the resident's ability to function independently. Too many inspections can be invasive.
A: Yes. The financing requires inspections. Everyone must be treated the same way. Some people are used to the concept of inspections, others have never dealt with them and find them more invasive. Inspections also have other purposes (e.g., maintenance) but Mr. Grauley agreed they are "tricky" but they try to explain that to residents.

Q: Completion date for senior residences?
A: If all goes well... The senior residences would be the last part of Fuqua's Phase III development to be built, due to finances. By next December, Columbia will know if have been awarded funding. Design and permits would proceed on the 3rd quarter of 2017 and the development would open on the 3rd or 4th quarter of 2018.

Q: What happens if they don't get funding on this round? Would you "hold pattern" for this site?
A:  They would love to. This would be up to Fuqua. The funding is competitive based on established criteria.

* [tree plantings and greenspace in Fuqua's redevelopment of this site has been a key concern for the North DeKalb Cross-Neighborhoods Council]