Rising taxes: She thought she’d live the rest of her life in her East End home. Now she can’t.
Fred Payne was born at Mercy Hospital in Nampa. Now, 57 years later, he’s one of the first tenants in the new affordable senior apartments built where the hospital once stood.
“I’ve come full circle,” he jokes.
Payne, who served in the army for 24 years, is a disabled veteran who lives on $2,000 a month. Until July, he’d been living in his daughter’s garage, which she converted into an apartment. But as his grandchildren grew older, he knew he needed a space for himself.
When the Mercy Creek Apartments went up a few miles away at 1615 S. 8th St, Payne’s daughter had him apply. A few weeks later, he moved into a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor. He pays $704 a month in rent — less than the Treasure Valley average of $872, as of 2018.
With rents soaring, older adults on fixed incomes have struggled to keep up. City leaders are looking to build more government-subsidized housing to provide affordable options to their oldest and most vulnerable residents, including projects like Mercy Creek. It is Nampa’s second affordable housing complex targeted at people over 55 to go up in the last year, alongside Colorado Gardens, which opened December 2018 with 50 apartments at 1007 S. Elder St.
“When you look at the demographics of our population we have an increasingly large group of households that are above the age of 65,” said Gerald Hunter, president of the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, which administers tax credits that help fund affordable housing. “That group is going to grow, and the need for affordable housing for that group is going to grow.”
By 2030, about 20% of the U.S. population will be over age 65, up from 15% in 2016, according to the Census Bureau.
In Idaho, people over 65 are the fastest-growing age group. Part of that includes retirees who are cashing out and moving from out of state. They may have no problem affording an apartment at one of the swanky new senior communities popping up all over the valley, which can charge up to $3,800 per month depending on your meal-plan package and housekeeping fees.
Affordable units haven’t been built by the private market. Low-income renters instead turn to government-subsidized housing, which offer a rental rates no more than 30% the monthly income of those making less than 60% of the area median income. Interested renters can download applications through the Idaho Housing and Finance Association at thehousingcompany.org.
But there’s a shortage of these units. As of 2017, Canyon County had 1,600 units of affordable housing and no vacancies. The Boise City Ada County Housing Authority manages 450 affordable units, with 240 dedicated to the elderly and disabled. And there are long waiting lists.
To make these apartments profitable, developers rely upon low-income tax credits — federal subsidies that the Idaho Housing and Finance Association awards to a limited number of projects each year through a competitive process that takes into account the need for a project and a developer’s experience.
“The senior projects have been very successful competing for the housing credits,” Hunter said. Of the $4.4 million in tax credits the association gave out for 2019, $2 million went to affordable projects aimed at seniors.
On that list of tax-credit recipients you’ll often find projects by Bill Truax, president of the Galena Opportunity Fund, a Boise-based investment fund that has poured money into low-income, affordable housing projects around the Treasure Valley, as well as market-rate projects.
Truax is building three affordable senior housing projects in Canyon County.
In July, he finished the $9.5 million Mercy Creek Apartments.
In August, he demolished the vacant Pennywise Drug store in Caldwell to make way for a four-story building with 50 senior apartments and a, 18,000-square-foot Terry Reilly health care clinic on the first floor.
Now he’s turning to a project called Sky Ridge in Nampa, which will include 70 affordable senior apartments at 412 E. Hawaii St. near the site of the old Mercy Medical Center owned by Saint Alphonsus, which was demolished in June.
For investors, these projects are safer bets than traditional low-income apartments. The cost of upkeep for senior housing is less, and developers can build smaller room sizes than they would for families. That lets them squeeze more units in.
For Truax, the projects also offer a chance to make a difference. “This was a sorely needed project,” he said during an open house Wednesday at Mercy Creek. “We hope this is a project that will trigger other developments.”
Truax sought out a site located along a ValleyRide bus line, too. “Especially for a senior facility, that determines so much whether they have options during the day to do stuff,” he said.
Most cities rely on private investors like Truax to finance the affordable housing their residents demand, including senior housing.
“It takes private investment to be willing to grow in our community,” said Mayor Debbie Kling at the open house. “The fact that the apartment was full in 30 days tells you we’re just keeping up with the demand.”
Developers rely on cities to provide incentives to help make a project profitable. For Mercy Creek, Kling said, Nampa created an urban renewal district around the project so the city could pay for $240,000 worth of sewer lines and sidewalk improvements. Now, the city will divert Mercy Creek’s property taxes from the general fund and use them to pay back those costs.
“It is urban renewal done right,” she said.
Even with those city dollars, not every unit in Mercy Creek is affordable, meaning available to those earning up to 60% of the area median income, which in Nampa is about $50,000 per year for one person. Five of the 50 apartments are open to anyone to live in, although Truax said they mostly go to those making between 60% and 80% of the median income, or between $30,000 and $40,000.
On a Wednesday morning at Mercy Creek, it’s hard to tell apart the subsidized renters from the nonsubsidized. Graying residents stroll down gray halls. The smell of fresh drywall lingers in the air. The new furniture looks as if it has barely inched beyond the exact place it was positioned when the apartments opened in July.
Upstairs on the second floor, Fred Payne admires the features in his new apartment: the wide doors, big enough for a wheelchair to slide through. A bench he’s put in the shower — “I gotta have that” — plus the handheld shower head already installed.
But what matters most to him is that this affordable housing has allowed him to stay close to home.
“My daughter is 2.6 miles down the road,” he said, as if tracing out the Google Maps directions in his head. “We do dinner every night. You couldn’t ask for a better location.”