MOUNT VERNON — The Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging wants to meet housing needs for Knox County seniors. When it can repurpose vacant lots into affordable housing, that’s even better.

That’s the message Duana Patton, the agency’s chief executive officer, and Nicole Williams, vice president of outreach and development, had for the county commissioners last week.

Working from a list of countywide properties provided by the Knox County Land Bank, the AOA centered on 301-303 N. Norton St. as an ideal location for a pilot eight-unit senior housing complex.

Plans call for one-bedroom, 800-square-foot units where seniors can age in place and move around with a walker or wheelchair. A typical rent ranges from $600 to $700 a month. Rent includes utilities.

“We like to include utilities because for seniors living on a fixed income, it’s easier that way,” Williams said.

Williams estimates the single-story complex will cost about $1.2 million, assuming everything is okay with the land. AOA will partner with a local contractor to do the work; Williams anticipates a one-year time frame for construction.

Patton said the goal is to keep all money local. The AOA will work with the land bank, local banks, and other local entities to secure the property and funding. Gap financing could come through the Ohio House Finance Agency.

The Agency on Aging would process rental applications, and Patton said the agency could also handle maintenance.

“As we look to build volume, we can look to see if it is financially feasible to do our own maintenance or hire it out,” she said.

The agency will provide a full-time community health worker to coordinate support services such as transportation, meals, or other needs.

Williams said the residential impact is residents have a sense of community, affordable housing, and the ability to stay in Knox County without being forced to go to another community.

Of the community impact, she said it involves neighborhood revitalization, encourages public and private partnerships, and increases housing stock.

“Anything that we do, we want it to be a catalyst for future development,” Williams said, adding that affordable senior housing frees up homes for younger couples. “The good and bad about a project like this is the demand.”

And there is local demand. A 2021 housing study showed that Knox Metropolitan Housing Authority had more than 718 unused housing vouchers because no housing units were available. That number is lower now but still hovers around 200.

The study also reported 230 families and elderly participants on a waiting list for housing.

“We have experience in this space, and we are quite passionate about it,” Patton said of providing affordable housing for seniors. “We are excited about Norton Street. We think it’s ideal; we think it would be a great first [project in Knox County].”

That experience includes co-developing Faith Community Housing in Crestline and Union Lofts in Ashland and, most recently, developing Ritter’s Run in Mansfield. Another Mansfield complex, Hawkins Corner, was gifted to the AOA.

Ritter’s Run was a partnership between several entities. The Richland County Land Bank donated land, Richland County put up $740,000, and the Richland County Foundation helped add porches and buy appliances. In addition, the AOA contributed $100,000, requested ARPA money from municipalities, and secured a mortgage through a local bank.

Local land bank vice president Sam Filkins thinks the Norton Street parcels are a good location for a pilot senior housing project.

“There are seniors in that neighborhood who don’t want to relocate,” he said.

The land bank owns the vacant parcels. One parcel has a house that Filkins said the land bank could demolish using state demolition or land bank funds. The Agency on Aging would have to work with the city to iron out zoning issues.

“I talked with a next-door neighbor who was interested and excited about something being maintained and new on the lots,” Filkins said. “I think it’s good for the neighborhood, and it could grow into something more.”

The commissioners were receptive to affordable senior housing coming to the county.

“We definitely know that we need housing,” Commissioner Bill Pursel said.

“We know we are short on every type of housing,” Commissioner Teresa Bemiller agreed. “Senior housing is a big part of that.

“I believe in this mission. I believe in letting people stay in their homes as long as possible,” she added.

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