PENSACOLA, FLA.—Jim Ryan is living proof of the low-income housing tax credit's (LIHTC) ability to help people recover from the housing crisis. The former software engineer, who was laid off a few years back and had been struggling to make the mortgage payments on his seven-room, two-bath house in Belcher Town, Mass., finally sold the home earlier this year, under threat of foreclosure.
Thanks to the LIHTC and multifamily tax-exempt bond programs, the 65-year-old now has a home in Florida, where he's close to his daughter and three grandchildren, at a much lower cost. “I could no longer afford to go down to visit my daughter and grandkids, and I wanted to be closer; I was missing [seeing them grow] up,” says Ryan, who now lives in a one-bedroom unit at Johnson Lakes Apartments here. He pays $531 a month in rent, and another $30 or so for cable, compared to around $1,200 in Massachusetts.
“One of the good things [for seniors] about a place like this is that we can actually gain a little selfrespect again,” he says. “I don't want to go live off my daughter or anything; I want to take care of myself.”
Ryan does more than that at the seniors complex, built by The Landmark Group as part of a state-led recovery effort in the wake of Hurricane Ivan, which swept through the Florida panhandle in 2004. He runs the computer room and trains other seniors on how to use the machines, plus lends a hand to fellow residents when they need assistance with other tasks.
In addition to the computer lab, the property has a swimming pool, an exercise room, and a recreation room, as well as an activity director who's available to drive residents to doctor appointments and help organize swimming lessons, health and nutrition classes, financial counseling workshops, and movie events in the first-floor theater room.
“We think amenities and services to residents are important,” says Landmark CEO Jim Sari. “It helps tenant retention: Happy residents stay longer, happy residents take care of their place better, happy residents don't scream when you have a needed rent increase.”
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. It also includes some touches aimed specifically at its target population. 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.
Because the development was conceived of as replacement housing for some of the homes 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 LIHTCs. To round out the financing, Landmark contributed $2.4 million in deferred developer's fees.
The tenant services were also paid for out of Landmark's developer's fees, notes Sari. “We do those things because they're the right thing to do, and they make good business sense,” he says, calling what Johnson Lakes provides “an empowering level of services.” Jim Ryan put it another way: “They're encouraging us living together and binding as a community,” he says, “and that's a good thing.”