Housing Assistance Program of Essex County: Community-Based Senior Housing
|Category: ||Community Impact, Housing Development
|Keywords: ||Senior Citizens
|Information About Organization:|
|Name: ||Housing Assistance Program of Essex County
|Address: ||PO Box 157
| ||2 Church Street
| ||Elizabethtown, New York 12932
|Contact: ||Alan Hipps, Executive Director
|Phone: ||(518) 873-6888
|Fax: ||(518) 873-9102
Housing Assistance Program of Essex County (HAPEC), New York, builds assets in small Adirondack communities by creating not just senior housing projects, but also a community-based organization to run them in perpetuity. Over 18 years, it’s developed 60 affordable senior units all over the county. Each project has its own locally controlled nonprofit management company, which coordinates a wide range of services for the seniors, who comprise 23 percent of the county’s population.
HAPEC contracts with the Essex County Nurse Service to provide personal care aides to assist the residents from one to two hours a day, depending on their needs. They provide blood pressure screening, flu shots, assistance with hearing aids, and bus service for shopping and medical appointments. They also help in coordinating local program activities to help fight the isolation of apartment living and fill in some of the long winter hours of retirement.
HAPEC of Elizabethtown, New York, was founded in 1976 with the mission of recognizing community development and housing needs, advocating change, and responding to opportunities. In addition to developing senior housing, it has assisted 124 low- and moderate-income first-time homebuyers and provided housing counseling to more than 500 households. It is a HUD-certified counseling program, and averages 150 clients a year. HAPEC also administers 583 Section 8 vouchers, has rehabbed 1,245 homes under a variety of funding programs totaling nearly $18 million, has developed a restaurant and marina, renovated a fire hall, redeveloped a park, converted one gas station into a community library and another into a community medical facility, and writes technical assistance planning grants for local municipalities.
North Country seniors are famously stalwart. They don’t like to move out of their homes, and won’t move out of their communities. The little towns are small, quaint, and friendly, but lack resources to care for seniors locally when they no longer can manage to live independently. HAPEC responded by organizing community leaders to collaboratively design and finance appropriately small, inviting, and locally-controlled projects. After construction, the same organizing group becomes the management company, which in turn provides a high level of responsibility and credibility in the day-to-day functioning of these centers. “These are small towns with small budgets but with big hearts,” said Executive Director Alan Hipps. “They figure out a way and get it done.”
Community Boards. HAPEC works with the town supervisor and town board to choose a group of “do-ers” in the community to volunteer for the new seniors’ nonprofit. Building a team, they analyze the market, gather resources, choose design professionals, and work through site selection, layout, features, and amenities together. HAPEC acts as the developer, trains the board in property management, and helps with reporting and problem-solving along the way. This provides an ongoing loop back to the community after the project is completed, ensuring ongoing small-town “ownership” of the project.
Credibility with Funders. The average staff tenure at HAPEC is 16 years, and its 28-year track record has been exemplary. Long-time funders such as the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the Governor’s Office for Small Cities, HUD, and the USDA Rural Housing Service know and trust HAPEC, based on this long-term experience of shared success, creating good things at the state and national levels.
The community boards, comprised of well-respected residents, in turn provide “pull” for things at the local level. Who volunteers for a community board like this? “It runs the gamut,” said Hipps. “In every town, there’s always a core group of people who take an active interest in their community – the ‘usual suspects.’” The most frequent method of “mining” for volunteers is other boards. “Our volunteers are usually people who are volunteering for something else, too,” Hipps said.
Appropriate Design. Project architecture is uniquely appropriate to the Adirondack surroundings, featuring steeply pitched roofs and strong massing to fit into the mountainous settings. The market insists they be small, so HAPEC goes for “cozy.” In Elizabethtown, and Willsboro, for example, the projects are only 12 units in 9,500 square-foot buildings. In Port Henry, the historic Lee House Hotel was renovated into 25 units in 21,300 square feet. The designs also have integrated generous shared space into the buildings, including pleasant, sunny sitting spaces just off the main traffic areas, group kitchens, community gardens, and exercise rooms. These features encourage community living, combat isolation, and ease the long winters. Even the hardest-to-please residents like living there, and the communities are proud to own them.
Ongoing Support. HAPEC staff assist the new community-based managing nonprofits as needed, be it landlord/tenant issues or reporting problems. But HAPEC doesn’t have the responsibility and liability of ongoing ownership or day-to-day management, freeing it to do other mission-related work. The community boards are built from small business people, bankers, and local community service providers, and are responsive to the unique needs of each community and each tenant. Instead of neglect, there is vibrancy, as features are continually added or improved by local, volunteer “movers and shakers.”
Sixty friendly, well-run, good-looking senior housing units embraced by neighbors as a community asset, with 22 more in the hopper. A former, abandoned, eyesore hotel now serving as a community anchor for the village of Port Henry. Six community-based groups representing local stakeholders serving as stewards to this asset. A model that has proven successful and can be replicated readily.
Close to 100 seniors who are no longer battling against the long, cold, Adirondack winters alone in poorly built housing, who weren’t forced out of their communities to a big senior project in the city, who can continue to contribute to the little town where they were raised, and where they raised their children.
In small rural communities, resources are slim, political clout is rare. “There’re no heavy hitters in rural communities, only singles hitters,” said Eric Hangen, a community development consultant and former NeighborWorks America management consultant. “So if you can’t go for the ‘long ball,’ you’ve got to string together a lot of singles, bunts, and stolen bases to score runs and get funded.” It’s not uncommon for HAPEC to submit a project three years in a row before getting funded, refining the application each time. “It doesn’t take us longer than average to compile a funding application,” said Hipps, “but we may have to dust it off and update it several times to get it done.” HAPEC’s deals are never half-baked when they start digging.
Certainly, a collaborative process takes longer and requires more communication and consultation than a top-down approach, but yields a better product.
Since joining the NeighborWorks network, HAPEC has learned the art of deeply layering financing to be more competitive with the main subsidy provider, using as many as seven funders for each project. Access to NeighborWorks America capital and technical assistance has greatly increased HAPEC’s ability to leverage projects with multiple sources. “It’s been a real key for us,” said Hipps. “We joined the NeighborWorks network quite recently, but we definitely look at projects much differently than we used to.”
Agency interview with: Alan Hipps