Wabash Estates Provides Cooperative Affordable Housing for Seniors in Baltimore
Most seniors prefer to live at home rather than move to an institution. Aging in place has been shown to reduce costs for older individuals, healthcare systems, and governments. Yet with 17.4 percent of Baltimore’s 134,000 seniors living below the federal poverty level, the highest percentage among major jurisdictions in Maryland, the city needs housing that allows older residents to remain at home safely and affordably. To help address this need, CSI Support & Development Services (CSI) constructed Wabash Estates, a 57-unit affordable housing development for residents who are at least 62 years old that opened in June 2014. Rent and utility costs for the development’s very low-income residents are calculated to equal 30 percent of each household’s income. In keeping with CSI’s mission, the development is managed as a cooperative, in which residents participate in all major operating decisions.
Making It Possible to Age in Place
The development’s 57 one-bedroom units are available to seniors with incomes less than or equal to 30 percent of the area median income, or $30,350 for a single person and $34,700 for a couple. Each apartment has features for residents with mobility impairments, including wide doors that accommodate wheelchairs and bathrooms with grab bars, flexible showerheads, and raised toilets, and some units also have wider hallways, swinging oven doors, roll-under kitchen and bathroom sinks, and lowered cabinets and countertops. All public spaces comply with accessibility standards, as well. The apartments are equipped with emergency alarms to alert an emergency response staff member who lives onsite. This staff member cannot provide medical care but can check on the resident and call for an ambulance, if necessary.
The three-story building offers features that are designed to promote social interaction, including a large communal kitchen, lounges on each floor, a computer center, community room, library, sundry shop, and a back porch with a barbecue. These shared spaces are also important nodes for facilitating aging in place. The library, for instance, has information about external services. Wabash Estates’ location also encourages independent living; the walkable neighborhood includes a grocery, other stores, and a bus stop across the street from the development. The building is constructed of high-quality materials and reflects attention to detail in its finishes, such as carpeting, two-inch blinds, and numerous windows; according to Brandon Moss, CSI’s Maryland regional manager, these features derive in part from the organization’s commitment to stewarding the property over the long term rather than building cheaply to sell to another owner.
To extend residents’ ability to stay in their apartments, an aide can move in with residents should they need help with daily tasks and self-care. A license agreement governs this arrangement, and the aide’s income is not taken into consideration when calculating a resident’s income cap. The development also has a committee that helps other residents who are having difficulty caring for themselves. The group is small, highly trained, and maintains residents’ confidentiality, says Moss; and the committee can help their neighbors connect with services so they can stay in their homes, such as Meals on Wheels, or even facilitate a move to a nursing home or another facility that includes medical or other care. In 2017, a service coordinator will join the development to help residents identify and obtain services that they might need to continue to age in place.
Wabash Estates cost $8 million to develop, which was funded entirely by a predevelopment grant and an interest-free capital advance under the HUD Section 202 program. The development’s Section 202 funding includes a 3-year, $695,700 Project Rental Assistance Contract to support building operations and maintenance while constraining rents at 30 percent of tenant income. As with its other 57 properties for low-income seniors in 4 states, CSI will maintain affordability in perpetuity. “We are very concerned about preserving our portfolio” and ensuring its high quality, explains Moss. Partly in recognition of its design, Wabash Estates won the 2016 Affordable Housing Vanguard Award for New Construction in the small property category, given to developments that have fewer than 100 apartments. The building’s energy-efficient features and low-emissions materials have been designed to achieve Gold certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes program.
A Management Structure that Benefits Residents
CSI’s mission is to provide affordable housing for seniors under a cooperative management structure. All but one of its developments are managed as cooperatives. Within each development, a cooperative council oversees daily operations. At Wabash Estates, the council consists of a staff member from CSI and volunteers from the development — a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer — who are elected by residents. Tenants serve as chairs and members of other committees that oversee leasing, maintenance, finance, entertainment, education, and the sundry shop. In addition to serving on the council and committees, tenants can vote on decisions that govern the building, such as who to hire for painting and maintenance and how to allocate any extra funds.
The cooperative structure benefits residents physically, mentally, and emotionally. Committee work gives residents, who may be retired, opportunities to stay mentally active by practicing old skills or learning new ones. Serving on a committee, which gives residents a sense of purpose, also has emotional benefits. “In a society that values youth and tends to throw away experience,” Moss notes, CSI’s cooperative structure values a resident’s “lifetime of experiences” that can improve not only their own lives but others’ lives as well. Residents also benefit from the cooperative’s social opportunities, which decrease isolation. These include committee work and social events that the residents plan. For example, many of CSI’s properties have an entertainment committee that holds an anniversary party for the development and regularly scheduled group dinners for tenants.
The benefits that Moss and Wabash Estates residents describe are consistent with the findings of peer-reviewed studies that show dramatic improvements in seniors’ health when they are given the opportunity to make independent decisions rather than simply being cared for by others. Seniors, even those who live in nursing homes, who are charged with taking care of themselves and their environments are more active and mentally aware and report being happier than seniors who do not have such opportunities. In addition, the cooperative structure is an effective managerial model. Moss says CSI has lower rates of complaints and evictions than other apartment management companies because it includes residents as partners in management decisions.
Seniors Engaged in Aging in Place
CSI enlists residents to serve on the company’s board of directors, which is composed exclusively of residents. These 13 tenants from CSI’s developments oversee the hiring, supervision, and review of CSI’s general manager and exercise other responsibilities to ensure that CSI stays connected to its cooperative mission. The board also approves CSI’s strategic plan, the cooperatives’ budgets, and contracts and other expenses exceeding $15,000. Wabash Estates is among the latest projects incorporating CSI’s 50-year commitment to cooperatively managed, affordable senior housing. Going forward, Moss says that CSI plans to continue to preserve affordable housing in perpetuity by acquiring additional senior housing developments.
Baltimore County Government. 2016. “County Demographics.” Accessed 10 January 2017; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research. 2013. “Measuring the Costs and Savings of Aging in Place,” Evidence Matters (Fall). Accessed 5 December 2016; Maryland Alliance for the Poor. 2016. “Maryland Poverty Profiles: 2016.” Accessed 10 January 2017; CSI Support & Development. n.d. “Wabash Estates Co-op.” Accessed 5 December 2016; Interview with Brandon Moss, Maryland regional manager for CSI Support & Development, 14 December 2016. CSI Support & Development. n.d. “Wabash Estates Receives Vanguard Award.” Accessed 15 January 2017; Correspondence from Brandon Moss, 16 January 2017; CSI Support & Development. 2014. “New Housing for Senior Citizens Comes to Arlington,” press release 9 June. Accessed 30 January 2017.×
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Interview with Brandon Moss, 14 December 2016; Correspondence from Brandon Moss, 16 January 2017.×