The District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) has opened its first affordable assisted-living facility, joining a small number of public housing authorities certified as a Medicaid provider.

To create the 14-unit development, the agency converted a building that it has owned for years. The property had been in and out of use as housing before being used as office space. DCHA leaders decided they needed to reposition the building, which was damaged in a fire a few years ago, back to housing.

“We knew there were heightened needs,” says Adrianne Todman, executive director. “When you walk into a seniors building, you can feel the need.”

She cites seeing people sitting in wheelchairs or hearing about residents who are spending more and more time alone in their apartments. DCHA serves about 3,700 people who are older than 65 years.

To meet the needs of these aging residents, DCHA decided to take the next step and build an assisted-living facility with 24-hour staffing and services.

People began moving into the new development in June. Officials have not named the property yet, electing to wait to get input from residents.

To live at the new facility, residents must be eligible for both public housing and a Medicaid waiver, according to Todman, who became executive director in 2010 after serving as interim director.

She says she only knows of a few other public housing authorities in the country that act as a Medicaid provider.

The approximately $5 million development was financed with $2.3 million in stimulus funds made available to public housing authorities through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; $990,000 in  local housing funds from the District of Columbia Department of Housing and Community Development; $1.2 million in capital funds from DCHA; and about $200,000 from insurance money related to the fire.

DCHA has brought in Florida-based Mia Senior Living Solutions to provide services. Medicaid pays for the service component while public housing funds support the housing.

Housing authority staff members spent considerable time becoming familiar with the Medicaid system. Now that they’ve gone through the learning curve, they are positioned to create additional assisted-living units in the future, Todman says.

Connect with Donna Kimura, deputy editor of Affordable Housing Finance, on Twitter @DKimura_AHF.