Affordable senior housing with aging-in place features had been difficult to find in the rapidly changing Franklin Park neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, until the opening of Fairwood Commons, a new senior housing community with supportive services and an on-site wellness center, in fall 2018.
“With the pressure of gentrification, seniors who had been in the neighborhood had no new viable options,” says Joseph McCabe, vice president of development at Columbus-based Woda Cooper Cos., the developer behind Fairwood Commons in partnership with the East Columbus Development Co.
The development team also took a bold approach to advance sustainability and energy efficiency. Their project is the first multifamily property in the state to be built to Passive House Institute US standards—attaining a high level of energy efficiency.
“We invested a great deal of time and resources to complete it, including a premium in upfront costs. So naturally, we are paying extremely close attention to the energy-efficiency results,” says McCabe. “We project that Fairwood Commons uses less than half the energy of comparable new construction multifamily buildings.”
Fairwood Commons is the overall winner in Affordable Housing Finance’s annual Readers’ Choice Awards for the nation’s top developments of 2018 and 2019. Magazine and newsletter subscribers also voted the project as the best green development.
The 54-unit community provides one- and two-bedroom homes for residents 55 and older. The units are targeted to seniors earning at or below 30%, 50%, and 60% of the area median income.
Architect PCI Design Group designed the three-story elevator building for modern living with an open concept design and high-quality finishes. All of the units are accessible to visitors with mobility impairments, and 12 units are fully wheelchair accessible with ADA bathrooms and kitchens. Two additional units are for residents with vision or hearing impairments. Additional amenities include a grandchildren's playroom, a fitness center, walking paths, a dog park, and a large community room with a kitchenette where you can usually find residents socializing.
Nonprofits East Columbus Development Co. and LifeCare Alliance coordinate services for residents, including in-home daily living supports, health screening and referrals, health and wellness programming, delivered meals, and transportation. In addition, the on-site wellness center provides office space and a classroom for programming and outreach for residents as well as neighborhood seniors.
The sustainability features also are paying off for the residents, ensuring lower monthly utility bills and allowing extra resources for food and other essentials.
“AEP, our utility company, indicates that Fairwood Commons’ units averaged an extremely impressive HERS Index Score of 38, which is far less than the threshold of 70 for AEP’s EfficiencyCrafted program,” says McCabe. “Most important, this means our senior residents pay less in monthly utility costs so they can use more income on other costs of living.”
To achieve this, increased insulation was used throughout the building, including at the slab. The thermal performance of this insulation is approximately double compared with conventional buildings. In addition, triple-pane windows, shading, high-efficiency heating and cooling and water heating systems, a balanced energy recovery ventilation system, Energy Star appliances, and LED lighting were utilized to contribute to the energy efficiency. Woda Construction served as the general contractor, while Sol Design + Consulting was the sustainability consultant and green rater.
“Air tightness is excellent, with essentially zero duct leakage for air loss. This also means very little dust comes inside. Fairwood Commons is 10 times tighter than code for new construction,” notes McCabe. “The triple-glaze windows offer superior insulation and an added benefit is excellent sound buffering; you can't hear traffic on the busy street outside. The energy recovery ventilator is top of the line, and fresh air is super-filtered for excellent indoor air quality. The water heaters are on a tightly designed loop to avoid energy loss from a temperature drop from heater to resident.”
In addition to building to Passive House Institute US standards, the development recently was rated LEED Platinum, the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest level in its LEED for Homes program, and has earned certifications for the Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Homes, Energy Star Version 3, and the EPA’s Indoor airPLUS programs.
The $12.2 million Fairwood Commons was financed primarily with low-income housing tax credits allocated by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency and equity provided by Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing. The city of Columbus was key to the development, with a HOME loan and a 15-year tax abatement granted for 100% of the increase in the project’s value. Additional financing included a bridge loan from the Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus and Franklin County and a construction loan from Huntington National Bank.
This year’s 15th annual Readers’ Choice Awards competition drew 118 entries, from which 36 finalists were selected. Newsletter and magazine subscribers then voted for the winners in each category plus an overall winner. An Editors’ Choice winner was also selected.
The other winners are:
- Family: Natalie Gubb Commons in San Francisco by Mercy Housing California
- Historic Rehab: The Union at 48 Boylston in Boston by the Planning Office for Urban Affairs and St. Francis House
- Mixed-Use: Independence Apartments and Library in Chicago by Evergreen Real Estate Group
- Preservation: Mt. Baker Village in Seattle by Mt. Baker Housing
- Public Housing Redevelopment: Village at Westerly Creek 3 in Aurora, Colo., by the Housing Authority of the City of Aurora
- Rural: Nelsonville School Commons in Nelsonville, Ohio, by Woda Cooper Cos. and Hocking Athens Perry Community Action Program
- Seniors: Highland Hall Senior Housing in Hollidaysburg, Pa., by S&A Homes
- Special-Needs: HELP Perry Point Veterans Village in Perryville, Md., by HELP USA
- Urban: Liberty Bank Building in Seattle by Capitol Hill Housing
- Editors’ Choice: Edwina Benner Plaza in Sunnyvale, Calif., by MidPen Housing
The winners will be recognized at AHF Live: The 2019 Affordable Housing Developers Summit, Nov. 18-20, at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.