Miami Herald Neighbors: New Housing For The Elderly

May 15th, 2011 By Jackie Larena-Lacayo

Low-income seniors get new complex
By Donna Gehrke-White

A $10 million environmentally friendly apartment building under construction in Pembroke Pines is one of the nation’s last projects to be funded by a federal housing program for the elderly.

Workers recently broke ground on the 75-unit building at Douglas Gardens North, 705 NW 88th Ave., one of only two such projects for low-income older people approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the state. The entire Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly program is being phased out this year, ending direct federal funding of such construction throughout the country.

Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis welcomed the third and latest phase of the Douglas Gardens North seniors’ complex, which already has 146 apartments in two buildings. The city doesn’t collect property tax revenue on the exempt property but it more than pays for itself by providing quality low-income housing for people 62 and older, Ortis said. Douglas Gardens North is on a landscaped 27 acres and provides buses and other services to its tenants.

“What a great place,’’ Ortis said. “It’s a beautiful way for our seniors to live out their golden years.’’

When the new building is finished next year, it is bound to fill up quickly, said William R. Holmes, director of Douglas Gardens North, which is run by the nonprofit Miami Jewish Health Systems. People won’t be able to apply for the new units until about 90 days before construction is finished, he said.

There is already a waiting list of 500 people trying to get into the first two apartment buildings, he said. But the new building will have its own waiting list so people who haven’t signed up before should not give up. They may be among the first on the list of the new complex and get in, Holmes added.

Demand has only increased with the recent decade’s hard times.

Some seniors who had saved are struggling with record low-interest CD rates paying near zero. Others have lost investments after the stock market plunged two years ago.

“They lost a lot of income,’’ Holmes said.

Others simply could not save because they never earned much money.

To be eligible to move into a Douglas Gardens North one-bedroom, one-bathroom unit, potential residents must be at least 62, with a yearly income of no more than $27,750 for one person and $31,700 for two.

Bernice “B.J.” Zeidman had to wait two years to get her one-bedroom apartment, but said she was happy she was patient.

“I love it,’’ she said. “I’m here going on four years. Living here is beautiful. The building and the upkeep are so gorgeous.’’

Plus, Zeidman doesn’t have to have a car because the complex has a bus that takes her to the grocery and discount stores like Walmart and Target.

She said she likes it so much that the 73-year-old volunteers at the office. “I stopped working when my boss died,” Zeidman said. “But I can’t stop working and doing nothing.’’

Now she is looking forward to the amenities the new building will offer, including a social hall, crafts and meeting rooms, a large patio and walking trails on the property’s 27 acres. Zeidman already takes a three-times-a-week exercise class at Douglas Gardens North.

Holmes said he wants to open the public rooms to the entire community, so there will be a place for civic groups to hold meetings and other events. There will also be healthcare and social services offered to the public.

And the new building will have a generator that will allow it to serve as a shelter during hurricanes and other emergencies.

“We believe that responsible stewardship of public money involves impacting as broad a swath of the community as possible – beyond serving our residents, we aimed to create a project that served a larger role in the community, providing healthcare and social services for those who can benefit from them,’’ Holmes said.

About 150 to 200 construction employees will work on the latest building in the next year, Holmes estimated.

The general contractor for the building is Coral Gables-based Beauchamp Construction.

The new building will also be energy efficient, enough for Douglas Gardens to apply for LEED Silver certification. LEED – Leadership in Energy and Efficient Design – sets standards for environment-friendly construction.

“HUD entrust these dollars to Miami Jewish Health System and Douglas Gardens North in large part because our track record of sound management and efficient spending,’’ Holmes said.

For more information on the complex, Miami Jewish Health Systems or about applying to live at Douglas Gardens North, visit www.miamijewishhealth.org or call property manager Susan Gotlieb at 954-704-4364, ext. 202.

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