The Denver Post by Austin Briggs
So many people wanted to live in the Town Center Apartments when they opened in Wheat Ridge that a waiting list formed to get in. More than 700 people wanted to live in the 88 units at 4340 Vance St. when it opened in Oct. 2012, the first affordable senior apartments built in Wheat Ridge in decades. Now residents and city leaders hope a neighboring project will satisfy some of that demand. Town Center developer Wazee Partners has received $965,000 in federal low-income tax credits through the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority to build a 50-unit expansion on adjacent property.
Wheat Ridge resident Helen Loehr was one of the lucky seniors to get in on the first phase. When her husband passed away 13 years ago, she tried to hold on to their house as long as she could. Always a social person, Loehr, now 69, started becoming more isolated as she dealt with spiraling costs for snow shoveling, yard work and house upkeep before realizing she needed to do something different. “There’s so many activities to do and living here allows you to maintain some of your independence while living in a secure environment and not having the responsibilities of a being a homeowner,” she said of the apartment she’s lived in since December 2012.
Wazee Partners wanted to add even more units. The firm originally submitted plans for a 92-unit building, but after being denied twice, the plan scaled back to 50 apartments for the expansion. Construction begins soon and is expected to be completed late next year. “Smaller projects, in general, are typically a better fit for CHFA given the huge amount of demand relative to the low supply of affordable housing tax credits,” said Tyler Downs, a Wazee principal. He added the company is the contract buyer on a nearby lot they soon plan on closing, although there are currently no definitive development plans. The tax credits make the project possible by allowing the developer to rent the units at below-market rates. For independent senior apartments in the metro area, market rates average roughly $1,600 per-month, while Town Center rents range from $595 to $1,071 — including all utilities — depending on size and number of occupants. Over the next 20 years the senior population is expected to double in Jefferson County, further exacerbating the need for affordable housing as metro rents continue to rise and vacancy rates remain low.
Twenty-five percent of Wheat Ridge’s 30,166 residents are 60 or older, compared to 19 percent countywide. Forty percent of Wheat Ridge citizens are over 50. “The housing need for the senior population in our city is huge,” said Nathan Mosley, a management analyst for Wheat Ridge. “Some people can’t continue to live on their own but still want to age in place in their community.”
Currently, the only other senior living units being built are at 38th Avenue and Kipling Boulevard; the 66-unit MorningStar development will focus on assisted living and memory care. After living in Wheat Ridge for 39 years, Loehr said at Town Center she not only gets to make new friends while enjoying recreational activities, but she was also able to give back to the community in an unexpected way. “There’s a lot of seniors in Wheat Ridge,” Loehr said. “If we can, it’s time for us to move out of the house and let the next generation of younger people move in.”