County is all-in on Blaine Manor senior housing

By February 22, 2019 News, Press Release

County is all-in on Blaine Manor senior housing

Commissioners increase donation, commit full lot to expanded ARCH project

The Blaine County commissioners are doubling down in support of senior housing, committing the entirety of the Hailey lot that once held the Blaine Manor nursing home to ARCH Community Housing Trust in an attempt to build residences for the valley’s aging population.

On Tuesday, the board agreed to grant the full 2.75-acre Main Street lot to the developer, aside from a 15-foot sliver promised to the city of Hailey. In April, it gave an initial 0.7 acres to ARCH to advance a proposed 30-unit complex for residents 55 and older. Twenty-eight of those units would have been rent-controlled.

The full lot would allow for a much bigger project, and, proponents hope, spur interest from the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, the state’s gatekeeper of federal tax-credit financing, which denied an application to fund ARCH’s initial project in December.

At that time, ARCH asked for $794,533 in annual tax credits for the 30-unit project, according to IHFA filings. In exchange for capping rental rates, ARCH would claim that amount annually for each of the next 10 years.

The new plan is to build 54 units, the maximum density allowed by the city of Hailey, according to ARCH Executive Director Michelle Griffith. Twelve would be market-rate, one would go to a property manager and the rest would be restricted to seniors whose income is at or below 60 percent of the area median—about $35,000 or less per household, according to numbers from the American Community Survey.

ARCH has a “very cursory” architectural plan, Griffith told the commissioners.

“I have an outline of a building, and parking spaces,” she said.

The revised design would aim to keep construction costs down, and spread them over more units. The IHFA scores applications on a 100-point rubric, with cost per unit breaking ties. Last year, ARCH’s pitch fell one point short of a tie for qualification, but it would have fallen short anyway, Griffith said. The per-unit price was too high.

“It became very clear that even if we scored a 94, we wouldn’t have gotten the money,” she said. “It was just too expensive. We’re going to do everything we can to get funding, but we absolutely need to keep costs down.”

With that in mind, Griffith intends to do away with some high-dollar aspects in the original design, most notably underground parking. And she’s seeking additional funding to pad the application before it goes before the IHFA.

That’s why time was tight when she came before the board Tuesday afternoon. ARCH intends to seek supplemental money from the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco. The deadline for that application is March 4.

Griffith said it may take four or five funding sources to move the project forward. In addition to providing the land, which had been appraised at around $3 million in 2016, the county agreed to pitch in $150,000 toward senior housing.

When ARCH’s application fell short, the board opted not to reallocate the money to the county’s general fund, meaning it’s still on the table, according to County Clerk JoLynn Drage. The funds aren’t earmarked exclusively for ARCH, but it’s the only such project “imminently on the board” to build housing in Blaine County, according to Commissioner Dick Fosbury.

“From my perspective, we need this,” Fosbury said.

Portioned a finite amount of tax credits by the federal government, IHFA did not fund three Blaine County applications in its 2018 cycle. A 40-unit project in Woodside proposed by Colorado developer Scott Niblack and the city-backed Northwood Place II project in Ketchum, to be developed by Gregory Dunfield of Seattle, also fell short.

Five of the eight projects financed last time around were in the Boise metropolitan area. Two were up north in Post Falls, and one was in Twin Falls.

One factor working against applications from Blaine County is its overall wealth, Commissioner Angenie McCleary told the Idaho Mountain Express when funding fell short in December. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which ultimately generates tax-credit financing, weighs applications from “qualified census tracts” more heavily. Those are areas where half of all households sit below area median gross income, or have a poverty rate of 25 percent or more. Blaine County doesn’t have any such areas, according to HUD’s 2019 assessment.

But the program’s scoring system may change. It’s currently under review by IHFA, which could help or hurt during the 2019 funding round. If, for instance, senior citizens are deemed an underserved population, ARCH’s application could see a boost, Griffith said.

Either way, the county’s gift won’t last forever. The initial donation stipulated a two-year window for ARCH to fully fund the housing project. The board has yet to officially amend the deal to include the full parcel, but it will likely include a similar clause.

“We’ve had a number of proposals for what could be done on this property, and I think a lot of public benefit could come from it,” said McCleary, who told the commissioners she favored the original allocation. “We’ve had requests for a fire station, a family entertainment center and commercial projects that would yield money for the county. Still, I think the highest need for the county is housing. I don’t want to lose sight of that.”

ARCH will still need revised approvals from the city of Hailey, which governs the county-owned lot.

“We’re giving up the opportunity to sell [the remainder], take funds from that and transfer them to other housing projects,” Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said. “The question is, do we want to put all our eggs in this basket?”

His answer: yes.

“I don’t have a problem with it all being senior housing,” he said. “That’s what the land was originally intended to be used for.”

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