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More rental units needed for seniors, disabled

While college students are often portrayed as the typical renters in Grand Forks, a growing number of older residents in the next decade could have developers thinking twice about who their target customers are.

Housing fair
A housing fair at the Grand Forks Senior Citizens Center recently provided education and housing options for adults 55 years and older. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

While college students are often portrayed as the typical renters in Grand Forks, a growing number of older residents in the next decade could have developers thinking twice about who their target customers are.

The city's senior population is expected to increase by 20 percent in the next 10 years, according to data assembled for the Grand Forks Housing Authority's 2012 housing needs assessment.

"To date, the community has done well serving the housing needs of the elderly population," the Housing Authority's Executive Director Terry Hanson said. "I don't think it's prepared for what is coming down the road."

A bigger population of senior residents will want more specialized apartments and assisted living facilities as many will trade their houses for more manageable living spaces.

Even now, an unusually low vacancy rate has left Grand Forks strapped for available places -- especially ones that accommodate seniors' needs.


As people age, they may develop disabilities such as difficulty hearing, seeing or walking. These may limit what kind of housing people can safely live in and creates a need for senior-friendly rentals. Living on a fixed income also adds to that limit.

New developments

A lack of senior-friendly and accessible apartments in the city caught the eye of developer Austin Morris of Enclave Cos., based in Fargo.

"It's very difficult for seniors to find housing in Grand Forks," he said.

Many apartment buildings contain students and young professionals, but Morris said seniors often don't seek out these places because they want to live around people their own age.

Enclave's solution was Silver Waters, a 96-unit retirement community located on the city's south end. The facility is under construction and, once completed, will feature one- and two-bedroom apartments with amenities such as gardens, activity rooms and a private dining room where community members can take guests.

"We want to make them feel like they're still in their home," Morris said.

Most of the units will start at $1,075 per month plus costs for other services tenants can choose to add onto their monthly rent.


Just a mile away, another set of senior apartments also is under construction. Cherrywood Village won't be as large, but the 30-unit addition to Tufte Manor will cater to a special group: low-income people 62 years and older.

Rents at Cherrywood will range from $359 to $509 per month, depending on income level, according to Nancy Andrews, director of housing and assisted living for Valley Memorial Homes, which owns Tufte Manor.

There is great demand for this type of housing, according to Andrews.

She cites a market study conducted on Grand Forks by the Housing Authority, which revealed there were only 194 affordable and accessible units available for the city's 1,285 low-income seniors.

Affordable units

Affordability plays a large role in where seniors and those with disabilities choose to live.

Many are on fixed incomes, which limit the amount of rent they can pay, according to Emily Wright, executive director of Grand Forks Community Land Trust and a Housing Authority employee.

"If you're on Social Security, you're living on $1,000 to $1,500 a month," she said. "Someone seeking a one-bedroom will likely pay $600 to $800. One rent payment ends up being two-thirds of your monthly income."


About 20 percent of all renter households in Grand Forks earn less than $10,000 a year, according to the Housing Authority. This group is composed mostly of seniors and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes, university students and other low-income households.

The maximum someone with that income could pay without becoming burdened by housing costs is $213. Becoming burdened means 30 percent or more of a household's yearly income is used to pay rent.

In 2010, only 3.6 percent of rents were under $250, according to 2008-2010 American Community Survey estimates. That's down from 10 percent of rents 10 years earlier.

Desired features

If a senior or disabled person does find a rental in his or her price range, they have many details to look for while visiting potential places.

Erica Young, an occupational therapist with Altru Health System, said an apartment or rental home should not only fit the tenant's current needs but future ones as well.

Doorways and hallways should be wide in case the occupant needs to begin using a walker or a wheelchair. All of the home's amenities also should be on one level and all rooms should have enough room to maneuver a walker or wheelchair.

Showers and bathtubs should have pre-installed benches or have enough room to place a chair in them. Young also recommends putting non-skid mats in bathrooms and on stair in the home.


Renters should check with their landlords to see if they can make alterations to their units if equipment such as grab bars or wheelchair ramps would need to be installed.

Picking a place with these features is meant to prevent senior renters from falling.

"One-third of people ages 65 and older fall at least once each year," Young said. "And half of all falls occur in the home."

Call Jewett at (701) 780-1108; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1108; or send email to bjewett@gfherald.com . Follow her on Twitter at @GFCityBeat or on her blog at citystreetbeat.areavoices.com.

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