News

Hurdles cleared for senior housing project

By John Leggett-The Courier Herald

A cumbersome political knot has been untied, paving the way for construction of the long-anticipated senior housing project in Buckley.

Officials from Pierce County and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development worked out some sticking points, setting the stage for members of the White River Housing Association to travel to Seattle late last week to sign documents that will secure a $3.5 million HUD community development block grant.

At one time, it was believed the project would be under way by now on a two-acre parcel of city-owned land near Spiketon Road, commonly known as the Miller property.

The HUD grant provides funding for construction and development costs of the senior housing project. A portion of the money, $318,500, has been earmarked for a five-year rental subsidy agreement that will kick in the first year and extend four years beyond that

A longtime advocate of the housing project has been Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson.

“I did my part last week by driving to Tacoma and inking the property transfer papers on that two acre plot of land,” she said. “There is a very small window to get going on this project, but as soon as we dot the Is and cross the Ts, I am confident that we can finally get started with the construction.

“I just hope we have a nice, dry October and November, unlike last year,” Johnson said, “so the entire site doesn't turn into a quagmire six weeks into this thing because of the heavy rains.”

A major hurdle came when Pierce County officials said the Housing Association had to purchase the two acres of land before starting construction. The problem was that millions in grant money are waiting, but no existing cash flow existed.

Members of the Enumclaw Regional Health Foundation, which has been the WRHA's sponsor for the past decade, came to the rescue, voting last week to loan the WRHA $110,000 for 90 days. The grant calls for the association to spend the money on the land and then submit a requisition order to be paid back with the grant.

The Buckley City Council unanimously voted to allow Synergy Construction, the West Seattle construction firm that eventually won the bid for the senior housing complex, to set up a trailer just outside the two-acre boundary on city property. By being close, the company hoped to begin construction immediately after being given the green light.

Just as the White River Senior Housing Association planning committee had warned last spring, the longer it takes to begin construction the more expensive it will be, due to skyrocketing costs of materials and construction.

While she couldn't nail down an exact figure, WRHA President Ann Trullinger, cautioned there might be a shortfall by the project's end.

The association has already begun to consider eliminating amenities that were part of the project's original blueprint - a washer and dryer in the majority of the 19 low-income senior units, for example.

“We have thought about trimming down some of the original expenses,” Trullinger said. “The people in this community really want to keep the ball rolling on this project, though. We have already had folks stepping forward and donating materials, skills and time, so you never can tell. Maybe there won't even be a shortfall.

“If there is, though, we are prepared to brainstorm to come up with fundraising ideas and ask for a helping hand from the reliable and generous service organizations around the Plateau.”

John Leggett can be reached at jleggett@courierherald.com.

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