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Filling a niche for senior housing

September 2, 2010

Post & Mail photo/Chris Meyers A resident of Blue River Senior Apartments in Churubusco makes her way this morning back to the Wright Building with her four-legged companion. It is one of several senior housing developments recently completed in Whitley County.

     When someone reaches a point in life where it’s no longer as easy to live in the sprawling ranch home or two-story house in the city, a nursing home may not be the first place someone wants to live out their years.
     With that in mind, three local developers have taken to the task of providing apartments geared toward seniors.
     “It allows them to stay close to their families,” and “age in place,” said Kathy Heuer, president of the board of directors of Blue River Senior Housing Inc.
     Blue River completed the most recent addition to its network earlier this year, and has already set its sights on another lot for potential development.
     Granite Ridge Builders is in the final stages of its senior apartment complex, Overlook Villas, in northern Columbia City, which is one of several senior apartment buildings completed in recent years in Whitley County.
     Though it will be at least three years before work can begin at the lot on Opportunity Drive for Blue River, there is little doubt that the apartments will be filled once finished.
     “We have a constant waiting list,” Heuer said.
     The list of people who want to live in Blue River Senior Apartments is one way the board gauges the need for apartments for seniors in the area.
     For Blue River, the apartments are government subsidized and can have rent from $50 to $497, which includes utilities.
     To find how much rent a person will pay, the board deducts certified medical expenses from the applicant’s gross income and rent is 30 percent of that figure.
     There are four different rent programs offered by Blue River, which developed since the organization started in 1972.
     “We truly focus on low-income seniors,” Heuer said of the focus of Blue River Senior Apartments.
     Blue River is the only local apartment development to target seniors that offers subsidized rates.
     Like Overlook Villas, north of Spartan Drive, and Yellow Retirement Communities apartments, the units at Blue River buildings are independent living communities.
     Each bathroom and bedroom of every apartment in the Blue River network has a device that residents can use to automatically call an ambulance to their apartment, if needed.
     According to Yellow Retirement’s website, all apartments are one story to meet the needs of people who can no longer safely use stairs.
     The same is offered by Overlook and Blue River.
     As for where to build senior apartments, Heuer said Blue River tries to find places close to grocery stores, pharmacies and other businesses.
     In the case of the most recently planned apartment building, being across the street from the Woodlands Senior Center was a major draw.
     A request for a special exception to use the land on Opportunity Drive still needs to be approved before further work can begin.
     After that, Blue River will seek a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant this fall, then take a year to plan and confirm the plans with HUD before construction can begin in about three years.
     When it comes time to build, Blue River will once again choose a local contractor who tries to hire about 80 percent of workforce locally.
     “We’re very committed to making sure that the money we receive (from HUD) stays in Whitley County,” Heuer said.

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