PENSACOLA, FLA. - Four years ago, when Hurricane Ivan swept through the Florida panhandle, killing 52 and causing close to $10 billion in damage, an estimated 2,000 residents of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties were left homeless.
To replace scores of the apartments lost to storm damage, The Landmark Group, based in Winston-Salem, N.C., signed on to a local architect’s plan to construct a seniors housing development in Pensacola, the Escambia county seat.
“The need was dire,” said Landmark CEO Jim Sari, noting that some residents were still living in tent homes. “We were able to come in and get it done quickly. Being able to deliver the product in an area of great need delivers immediate impact.”
Groundbreaking began on Johnson Lake Apartments in late 2006, and the development was completed in February. As of early July, about 65 percent of the units were leased. The property was designed with efficiency and cost control in mind, using double-paned glass windows as well as energy-efficient insulation and HVAC systems. Plus, the decision to build a four-story wood-frame structure instead of a taller building that would have required concrete and steel framing saved big on construction costs.
Floors were color-coded to help seniors find their way around, and the exercise room was glassed in so that in the event a resident using it were to have a health problem, others would see and could call for help.
The site also has an activity director who’s available to drive residents to doctor appointments as well as organize swimming lessons, health and nutrition classes, financial counseling workshops, and movie events in the first-floor theater room.
The property, located on a six-acre site that includes some wetlands, is dotted with outdoor walking paths and bridges to allow residents to enjoy its natural beauty.
Because the development was conceived as replacement housing for some of the units lost during the 2004 hurricane season, it was able to access funds provided through two state programs designed to aid in hurricane recovery: the Hurricane Housing Recovery Program (HHRP) and the Rental Rehabilitation Loan Program (RRLP). The RRLP loan of $6.1 million was provided through the Florida Housing Finance Corp., and the $800,000 HHRP loan came from Escambia County.
The development tapped $9 million in tax-exempt bonds issued by the Escambia County Housing Finance Authority and purchased by MMA Financial, which also provided $3.2 million in equity for the project’s 4 percent low-income housing tax credits. To round out the financing, Landmark contributed $2.4 million in deferred developer’s fees.
“Providing the extra amenities that we do, this is just good business in my mind,” said Sari. “I want to provide enough for it to make business sense to do it, even if the cost comes out of my fee. [I want] people to be happy. It’s about the tenant.”