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Senior housing project is on Hinesburg's radar

HINESBURGWith the population demographics in Vermont changing rapidly, and the costs of health care rising, affordable senior housing is an issue that is increasingly on the minds of many people throughout the state. It is an issue that we are just going to have to figure out, said Amy Wright, director of development for Cathedral Square Corporation, a nonprofit affordable housing organization that creates service enriched housing. Wright addressed the Hinesburg Affordable Housing Committee on Thursday, April 5 regarding affordable options for senior housing. Cathedral Square provides an array of housing opportunities in the towns of Burlington, South Burlington, Colchester, Essex Junction, Jericho, Middlebury, Richmond, St. Albans, Waterbury , and Williston, and includes affordable housing with various levels of health services including one assisted-living facility in Burlington, Cathedral Square Senior Living. Many of the housing opportunities provided by Cathedral Square serve as an intermediary step between independent living and nursing homes, which Wright said is one of the biggest gaps for housing in the state. The organization generally maintains a waiting list of about 500 plus people despite efforts to continually create more affordable housing for seniors. During the meeting with the Hinesburg Affordable Housing Committee, Wright discussed some of the challenges faced in senior housing, including the increasing need, longer duration of stays for seniors at the Cathedral housing facilities, funding challenges, and the complicated world of Medicaid. The world of Medicaid, said Wright, makes housing look simple. Even though Cathedral Square has been working at creating affordable senior housing since the late 1970s, they still face many challenges. Wright talked specifically about the organizations effort to try and provide housing with more services, and the decision to create 28 units of assisted-living at Cathedral Square Senior Living in Burlington. Were struggling financially to continue to meet our mission, she said, and added that It has proved to be a very successful model in all ways except financial. Still after talking about the many challenges she faces in her job, Wright said, I have to tell you, development is a lot of fun. A group of people that wants to do something for their community--its a very powerful thing. It blows funding sources away, she added. While Wright talked about some of Cathedral Squares larger housing facilities, the committee asked about some of the smaller projects the organization has worked on, such as the developments in Richmond and Jericho. Creating smaller housing developments, she said, is one of the hardest things to do in Vermont. With smaller projects, she noted that that the developments often rely heavily on the community for support. After talking about specific funding sources and steps to take in gaining planning grants, Wright was hopeful about the course for Hinesburgs committee: I love it when groups are thinking about this in any size, at any level. She also noted that just an interest in the issues is a step in the right direction. Im really excited to hear about groups like you, said Wright, Whether youre building housing or not--youll make a difference. When the Hinesburg Affordable Housing committee was first formed last summer, the group sat down and talked about the many types of speakers they wanted to hear from, and senior housing among the issues the group expressed an interest in getting educated about, said vice-chair of the committee, Carl Bohlen. Some of the speakers the committee planned to hear from were delayed as the issue of Inclusionary Zoning has rearranged their schedule, he said, with the committee devoting a lot of time and energy to first determine whether or not IZ was something they wanted in Hinesburg and then working toward including it in the towns zoning bylaws, currently undergoing a re-write by the planning commission. Bohlen said what he thinks may be the next step for the committee is to conduct a market survey in order to find out what the need is in Hinesburg. The assumption right now is that there is a need for all types of affordable housing, but he said he doesnt know if that is true for Hinesburg or not. Although he said that on a statewide level there is an even higher need for family housing than for senior housing, I dont know if Hinesburg fits that standard. There is currently a development project underway in Hinesburg, called Thistle Hill which will consists of 32 units (out of 57 total units) of age-restricted housing for seniors. The development, though geared toward seniors, is not considered affordable and will not include health care services. Rocky Martin, chair of the affordable housing committee said that having senior housing is mentioned in Hinesburgs town plan as a stated goal. Its on our radar--were thinking about it, said Martin.

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