Financing woes stall Lauderdale senior apartment project

By Anne Holzman

The city of Lauderdale will have to wait at least until July to see if state affordable housing financing is available to assist developers in building a proposed senior apartment complex at the former Lauderdale School site, 1795 Eustis St.

Major construction work won’t start until affordable housing financing is in place possibly from the July distribution of tax credits and bonding authority from Minnesota Management and Budget.

Meanwhile, the city recently authorized Bauer Brothers, of Minneapolis, to begin salvaging items of interest from the old school and then putting them up for sale through City Hall.

Salvage items may include wooden trim, railings, doors, flooring, cabinetry, bathroom fixtures, drinking fountains, emergency signage, windows, lighting, chalkboards and a heating and cooling unit.

The developer, Real Estate Equities, has planned 114 senior apartments for the site, designated as “affordable housing” in the 50 percent to 70 percent eligibility bracket of Area Median Income under federal, state and Metropolitan Council rules.

The units would be available for income eligible renters ages 55 and up.

Lauderdale Mayor Mary Gaasch said funding shortage for affordable housing is a perennial topic among Twin Cities mayors when they gather to discuss issues affecting their cities.

“The frustrating part is the (state) Office of Management and Budget has changed the criteria for priority,” Gaasch said, referring to the way in which applications are approved.

Further complicating the cities’ efforts is the authority of counties to prioritize distribution of funds, she said. “One part of the puzzle is that some counties have chosen to prioritize 30 percent (of AMI),” Gaasch said, referring to the income eligibility guidelines for renters.

Gaasch said larger cities have an edge in meeting the various targets because they have old buildings available for renovation, which are less expensive than new construction.

“In the suburbs,” she said, “we have to build something new.”

Gaasch said she doesn’t question the need for public funding assistance in order to carry out the project.

“The developers aren’t making a whole lot of money; they have tiny margins,” Gaasch said. “The problem is married to the cost of construction.”

Some utility and street work already has been done to prepare for the senior apartment complex. City administrator Heather Butkowski said work also continues behind the scenes to line up other financing and take care of other aspects of the project.

She said that while senior housing has been a priority in surveys of residents over the years, it also would open up affordable housing for families as seniors vacate their single-family homes.

“When seniors can move out of their homes to places better suited to aging, they open up housing opportunities for families,” Butkowski said. “We can’t build our way out of the (affordable housing) problem because new home construction is so expensive compared to existing housing stock.”

Whatever the pace to get new housing construction underway, longtime Lauderdale resident Kathy Bernstrom Lerfald has been compiling memorabilia from school alumni to produce a commemorative book about the former Lauderdale school. She said a recent announcement that salvaged keepsakes will be put up for sale seems to have spurred renewed interest in the project.

“People have been submitting a lot of class photos,” Lerfald said, as well as programs, report cards and other documents. “It’s been an amazing amount.”

Lerfald said the working title to her commemorative book is “History and Memories of Lauderdale School.” She said anyone who wants to lend or donate materials should call City Hall at 651-792-7650 to arrange submissions.

Anne Holzman covers Falcon Heights and Lauderdale government news for the Bugle.

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