FARGO — Affordable senior housing in Fargo will soon receive a major facelift.
It’s thanks to the Fargo Housing and Redevelopment Authority’s $12.45 million Elliott Place project, which was recently issued a building permit from the city.
Construction will soon be underway at 4462 30th Ave. S., which is just a stone’s throw from the bustling intersection of 32nd Avenue and 45th Street South.
The three-story assisted-living facility will feature 84 one- and two-bedroom units, Fargo Housing’s Deputy Director Chris Brungardt told The Forum. It will be available to all residents over the age of 55 who meet certain income criteria.
Elliott Place — which Brungardt said the Board of Commissioners decided to name after Jill Elliott, a 43-year fixture of the authority — will also include heated underground parking, nail and hair salons, craft rooms and visitation areas on every floor and in-unit washer and dryer hookups. Meals will also be available from Meals on Wheels.
If Elliott Place’s amenities read similarly to those of Fargo’s newer apartments, it’s by design, Brungardt explained. Fargo Housing’s objective is to answer a growing shortage of senior housing in the city with affordable options that don’t skimp on features. “Our new model that we’re trying to follow at Fargo Housing is that we’re trying to build units that we’re going to be proud to put people in and that I wouldn’t mind moving my 83-year-old mother into,” Brungardt explained.
It’s also why Fargo Housing has embarked on the process of deciding the fate of the Lashkowitz High Rise in downtown Fargo, a process which required moving tenants of the 247-unit building out. Units in the High Rise, which was built in 1971, lacked modern-day amenities and some were as small as 305-square-feet. Fargo Housing is currently working with Missoula, Mont.-based BlueLine Development to determine if the high rise should be renovated or demolished.
Unlike the High Rise, however, Elliott Place will be a brand-new building in rapidly-growing southwest Fargo. Brungardt expressed excitement regarding Elliott Place’s potential to give seniors in the area a fresh and affordable option. “It’s going to be a very nice building,” he said. “It’s going to be a wonderful place for people to live and be able to age gracefully.”
The project is anticipated to be completed in 14 months, though contractors are optimistic that timeline can be cut down to 12 months, Brungardt said. Either way, Elliott Place is expected to open late in the summer of 2022, he continued.
Finding affordable answers
Brungardt estimated the number of residents of Elliott Place could be as high as 160 seniors plus caretakers. He believes the project, which he said is one of Fargo Housing’s largest, will have a massive impact on the senior community. “There’s a shortage of senior housing in the Fargo-Moorhead area and every additional unit we can put in there is a great benefit,” he said.
The city of Fargo has made increasing the stock of affordable housing a priority in recent months, as it is expecting the number of workers and senior residents in the city to climb.
The rise is attributable in large measure to the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion project and the Amazon Distribution Center. The diversion is expected to bring in 7,700 construction workers, while the Amazon facility is hiring 500 employees. Seniors, meanwhile, are anticipated to flock to Fargo because of its proximity to health care as opposed to rural communities.
Those numbers have people like Brungardt concerned about the availability of quality affordable housing in the city. “As we continue to develop and grow with the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion coming up and all the other large developments coming in town, there’s going to be a big demand for workers,” he said. “There are a lot of entry-level wage scales for workers where they can’t really afford housing, so it’s direly important that we’re able to provide these services.”
Elliott Place, Brungardt noted, will be a key piece of the affordable senior housing puzzle for Fargo Housing. “As more of the baby boomers age and go into retirement, there’s going to be a higher need for senior housing,” he said.
The senior surge is not a trend that’s isolated to the Fargo-Moorhead area, either. By 2030, all baby boomers will be 65 or older, the United States Census Bureau reported. Estimates prior to the 2020 Census pegged the number of baby boomers, born from 1946 to 1964, to be 73 million.
Solving the shortage
Financially, Elliott Place will also provide a considerably more affordable option as opposed to other long-term care alternatives.
As Fargo has become a more expensive place to live, the financial strain on low-income individuals has become increasingly untenable. “Housing is a fundamental human right in my opinion and Fargo is a very expensive town to live in,” Brungardt said. “We consider anyone who has to spend more than 30% of their income to be housing-stressed.”
Data from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities stated that 29,000 North Dakotans across 12,000 households utilize federal rental assistance. Of that group, 72% are either children, seniors or disabled.
According to the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency, 17.5% of homeowners with a mortgage and 38.5% of renters are cost-burdened when it comes to housing. For extremely-low-income households, the state is estimated to have a shortage of 13,000 affordable rental units.
Also among the group of cost-burdened North Dakotans are seniors relying exclusively on Social Security, which provides an average of $17,592 annually. One-quarter, or 7,300, of those receiving rental assistance in North Dakota are seniors, the CBPP reported, and 15% of the 38,100 North Dakotans who spend more than half of their income on housing are seniors.
The housing crunch is concerning for many cities in the area, Brungardt said, and results in people having to make difficult choices. “A lot of people can’t even make that choice between if they’re going to make rent or buy food,” he said. “That’s not right. People need to have affordable housing.”
'There's a buzz out there'
Once completed, Elliott Place will be a “fantastic addition” for area seniors, Brungardt said. “It allows people to age in a dignified manner. It’s going to be a nice place for them to live,” he continued.
The facility will also serve as an alternative to a nursing home for those who are unable to live alone. “If a person can’t live on their own in their own home and they’re not willing to go into a nursing home yet, this could be that transitional piece,” Brungardt said.
Financing for the project was made possible through a combination of sources, including the city, NDHFA, tax credits and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grants. “The city of Fargo has done a lot of heavy lifting for us by providing some home funds,” Brungardt said. “Without those types of partners, we would never be able to get this building out of the ground.”
While it has been “quite a hectic effort” to finally bring Elliott Place to this point, the project has already drawn attention from interested residents.
“We’ve started getting some inquiries. ... There’s a buzz out there,” Brungardt reported. “I really expect here by January that our waiting list will be full.”