An architectural rendering of the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah’s 36-unit independent senior living apartment complex near the Canyonlands Care Center. [Image courtesy of Caddis Architecture]

After 15 years of work, one of the final pieces of the Moab Area Partnership for Seniors’ vision is almost in place.

The Utah Housing Corporation last week approved roughly $5 million in tax credits for a 36-unit independent senior living apartment complex behind Moab Regional Hospital and the Canyonlands Care Center.

The 1.9-acre project, which is tailored to residents 55 and older, includes plans for 30 one-bedroom and six two-bedroom units. It will be the second-largest development that the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah (HASU) has undertaken, after the 60-unit Cinema Court Apartments on Mill Creek Drive.

Under an ideal time frame, HASU Executive Director Ben Riley said he’s hoping that construction work on the apartments will begin in August or September 2018.

The Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District (CHCSSD) donated the land, which has an assessed value of $210,000, because the project fits within the partnership’s plan for the larger campus, according to district board chair Kirstin Peterson.

“We were like, ‘Yeah, we would love to see more of those goals met,’” she said.

Outgoing Moab City Council member Kyle Bailey was actively involved with the development of the Moab Area Partnership for Seniors’ (MAPS’) vision for the immediate area, which is also home to the Grand Center, Moab Regional Hospital and the Canyonlands Care Center. He said that he and other partnership members – including former Grand County Council chair Joette Langianese and Grand Center Program Manager Verleen Striblen – envisioned housing and services that are within walking distance of each other in one central location.

“You’d be able to walk from the independent housing over to the Grand Center, have lunch, do senior activities and go to a doctor’s appointment,” Bailey said. “That continuum-of-care campus philosophy is something that we tried very hard to follow.”

Longtime partnership member Joey Allred is an independent living and veterans coordinator with Active Re-Entry, a nonprofit that offers independent living services and will be the project’s service provider. She said the centralized location will be a boon to the apartment complex’s future residents.

“Being able to have all levels of care on one campus helps seniors stay connected,” Allred said.

Red Cliff Lodge owner Colin Fryer, who donated a portion of the MAPS property when he sold land for a new hospital, saw the timing of the tax credits announcement as the ultimate holiday gift.

“What a great Christmas present – that’s all I can say,” Fryer said. “Our town needs it desperately – everyone knows that – and the location couldn’t be better … It’s much more desirable to have a project like that, that’s pedestrian-friendly.”

The Moab City Council previously approved a request to rezone the property at 354 W. Williams Way, and the project’s partners are now preparing for the next phase of the project: the public design process. Peterson, Riley and others have already reached out to the project’s neighbors, and they said they’ve been taking their input into the design of the new complex.

“We’re definitely very aware of what their concerns are,” Peterson said.

Moving forward, Riley expects that phase of the project will continue until early summer 2018.

“There’s certainly lots of time and lots of opportunity for public input yet into the design of where the buildings will sit, how big they’ll be and all that type of site design information,” he said.

“It’s a big deal”

The project is expected to cost just shy of $7 million, and the bulk of its funding will come from the Utah Housing Corporation’s low-income tax credits. That’s a notable change from a funding source that has been the housing authority’s “bread and butter” – the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Mutual Self-Help Program – which has funded about two-thirds of its annual operating budget.

“These types of (tax credit) projects – they’re much bigger in scope,” Riley said. “They take a lot more planning and development, so they don’t come around as often, (and) when they do, when a small rural city like Moab gets a tax credit project, it’s a big deal.”

Under the federal Community Reinvestment Act, banks are required to give back to the communities where they’re chartered.

One way they can do that, Riley said, is by investing in affordable housing through the tax credits that the state’s housing finance agency gives out every year. In return, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows the banks to write off some of their taxes.

“That’s obviously a huge, huge part of the equity needed to build this project, and since that equity is essentially given to the project and granted to the project through these banks, we’re able to get less debt,” Riley said. “That means we have less of a mortgage that needs to be paid down, and we can rent these units for a much lower rate.”

In addition to the tax credits, HASU previously received a grant from the City of Moab, along with nearly $300,000 in grant funding from the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. It has also applied for about $500,000 in low-interest financing from the state’s Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund; the remainder of the project’s funds will come from debt financing.

“There’s not very much hard debt – that’s the key,” Riley said.

The Utah Housing Corporation requires rents to remain affordable for 50 years, based on various Area Median Income (AMI) levels, which typically range from 25 percent to 50 percent, according to Riley.

In the case of HASU’s senior apartment complex, that’s expected to translate to a monthly rent of about $225 to $500 for a one- or two-bedroom apartment. Riley estimates that the market-rate units will rent for about 80 percent of the AMI, or somewhere between $600 to $800 per month.

According to Riley, the housing authority improved its application score with the Utah Housing Corporation by adding market-rate housing to the mix, although he noted that the rents for those units will ultimately remain below Moab’s average.

“In order to stay competitive, it’s important to have some quote-unquote market rate units in there, as well,” he said.

“A dream partnership”

In the past, private entities approached the CHCSSD with plans to develop an assisted living facility on district-owned property, and the district even entered into a contract at one point to sell land to one company. Needless to say, those plans never got off the ground.

Peterson said that the housing authority’s track record on other developments set the stage for a better and easier relationship on the independent senior living project.

Riley, meanwhile, called the project a “dream partnership.”

“We had a lot of great partners in the county and at the health care district,” he said.

While independent senior housing has long been a MAPS goal, the housing authority’s plans only came together in 2016, when a contingent of local representatives attended an affordable housing workshop in Salt Lake City.

Riley and Allred joined Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine, then-AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Kaitlin Myers and Grand County Council chair Jaylyn Hawks for the workshop, and together, they slowly developed the project concept.

“That was kind of the start of the idea of finding this MAPS project,” Riley said.

Levine’s office helped out with the concept and vision, as well as land-use and zoning issues, while reviewing some preliminary site designs with planners and architects. He said he was excited to work on the project because it will help local residents age in place, where they’re already connected to a social network and family environments.

The project is not geared toward retirees per se, Levine said, noting that many seniors in Grand County continue to work.

“Some residents are going to be fully independent seniors who don’t need any additional on-site attention,” Levine said.

Bailey noted that some seniors in Moab currently live in townhome-style apartments that weren’t designed to accommodate their needs. Bedrooms in some apartments, for instance, may be situated upstairs, and they may lack handrails or other features that are in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

“So these will be more in tune with what seniors need, and built with seniors in mind, with those amenities,” Bailey said.

As younger Baby Boomers continue to age, both Bailey and Allred anticipate that the need for senior housing will only grow in the coming years.

“We’re above the state average in the number of people who are over 65,” Bailey said. “And if people are going to age in place, I assume that a number of (them) will want to live in the independent housing that will be in place.”

“It’s just important that no matter where you are with your care needs, you’re able to stay with your circle of friends, and also your family,” Allred said.

Public review process to begin in 2018; groundbreaking anticipated in late summer

What a great Christmas present … Our town needs it desperately.