by Evelyn Pyburn- For the Yellowstone County News
A survey to establish need and analyze the market potential for a proposed housing project for seniors in the area of eastern Yellowstone County has been completed and details of the study were reported to Yellowstone County Commissioners on Tuesday.
The project was also one among two proposed for further funding under the Community Development Block Program (CDBG), for which a required public hearing was also held on Tuesday before the County Commissioners. An earlier grant helped fund the market analysis for the seniors housing proposal.
Jean Ott, a member of the Huntley Project Senior Housing Committee, submitted the request to build a combined senior housing and senior citizens center in the vicinity of Worden to serve the broader area of Huntley, Custer, Ballantine and Shepherd. The project would likely be built by a private investor. Details are to be presented at another public hearing.
The second project requested for consideration of a CDBG grant came from Nic Talmark, President of the Lockwood Pedestrian Safety Council. Talmarck said that the council needs funding for a master plan that will establish priorities for projects in building pathways and trails for pedestrians and bikers in Lockwood. He too will present more details at a second public hearing, at which time commissioners will vote whether to forward the proposals for grant requests.
Sara Hudson, Community Development Project Manager, who has overseen the Huntley Project Senior Housing study, said that with the completion of their study, they will hold an open house for prospective investors to present the information.
Kim Olsen, whose firm O2 Architects, conducted the feasibility and market study for the senior housing project, reviewed the results saying that there does appear to be a need for affordable senior rental housing in the area, along with a facility to provide for social gatherings and perhaps meals. It’s been demonstrated, she said, that seniors with such living conditions live longer.
The population of seniors in the rural Eastern Yellowstone County is three times that of the “baby boomer” population. There are more people over the age of 50 than under, and 681 are over the age of 70. Most of them are single persons, and most of those are women. There are no rental units available to them, unless they move into Billings.
There is a high percentage of homeownership among the seniors either stick built homes or mobile homes. In fact, 45 percent of all the mobile homes in the county are located in this area. Many of the homes are costly to maintain and difficult for a senior to maintain and drain meager resources. Less than one percent of the available housing in the area are rentals.
Because of the rural nature of the area, automobile ownership and the ability to drive is a necessity. There is no public transportation. Seniors without automobiles and living alone are often isolated.
The average income for seniors in the area is $13,830. Based on the rule-of-thumb that affordable housing is a third of a person’s income, an affordable home for this group would cost $58,000. The median price of a home in the area is $189,000 and the average listing price is $250,000.
The study also focused on the importance of a center which is conducive to social interaction. That is necessary, said Olsen, for a stable rural culture. A possible solution would be to incorporate a housing project with the community center which would include a kitchen, which could help supplement the nutritional needs of seniors in the community.
Olsen said that further analysis is needed to complete the market study to determine what price would make the project appealing to a developer. She recommended a 20 unit project with the potential for expansion “to begin with.”