Commission delivered final report to Congress on June 28, 2002
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Oral Presentation by Kate Cleveland
Housing Project Coordinator
Center in the Park

Overview of the Project

Center in the Park, founded in 1968, is a community based not-for-profit multi-purpose senior center located in Northwest Philadelphia in the population center of the historic Germantown community. Center in the Park provides an array of activities and programs ranging from an award winning comprehensive health and wellness program to case management services targeted to meet the acute care needs of homebound older adults. The Center offers programs and activities to its members which are life sustaining, life affirming and life enriching and which promote continued mental, physical and psychological stimulation. Health promotion programs, such as tai-chi, health screening, disease awareness seminars and support groups focus on the importance of preventative measures in maintaining healthy lifestyles. Activities which develop and enhance creative expression such as art classes, pottery, journal writing, and poetry, provide mental stimulation and open new opportunities for older adults to discover hidden talents. The Center has won national recognition as a model senior center which views aging not as pathology but as another stage of life. The Center serves 6,000 older adults and has provided these services for the past 30 years.

From its inception, the fundamental mission of Center in the Park has always been to provide the supports necessary to enable older people to live independent, productive and fulfilling lives. While the Center had coordinated services for those who are homebound, we had never provided or managed housing for older people. In 1990, a grant from the William Penn Foundation changed that. The grant funded a study, which began a ten-year process resulting in a model for housing for older people. Through a partnership with Pennrose Properties, Inc. the Center is about to expand upon its successful experiences as a senior center to respond to another community need - the provision of quality housing with enhanced services for older adults with low to moderate incomes. The housing facility will contain seventy units and will be constructed in the heart of the Germantown neighborhood, on a parcel of vacant land contiguous to the Center.

We learned through that 10-year feasibility process that the project had to respond to two realities in the state of Pennsylvania. First, there is government money available for construction of affordable housing. Construction financing for the $8.6 million project was identified through the Federal Home Loan Bank, Penn Homes and low-income housing tax credits. Second, there is little or no government money available to subsidize services for low to moderate-income people who live at home and need supportive services in order to remain independent. The key to the Center's housing concept was the provision of such services so that the older resident could remain at home.

Real creativity was needed to formulate a plan to subsidize supportive services for low to moderate-income residents. The adjacency of the Housing to the Center allows a "campus" to develop where the residents of the housing will be able to access the comprehensive programs, activities and services that the Center offers. In addition, the Center will provide a Service Coordinator for the residents, who will be given access to services including but not limited to housekeeping, personal care, laundry service, meals, and transportation. Provision of these services will be supported through a combination of subsidized and private pay sources. As part of the William Penn Foundation's support for the project, the Center in the Park received a grant of $1,000,000 for bricks and mortar. Because construction financing was identified from other sources, the Center received permission from William Penn Foundation to use this $1,000,000 as an endowment to support this "enhanced service concept." This has allowed realization of a primary goal of the housing: to allow residents to age in place, despite their inability to pay for services, as long their functional level is appropriate.

Evolution of the Model

The 1990 grant from the William Penn Foundation had a somewhat narrow focus: How can the quality of life be improved for Personal Care Boarding Home residents in our community? Personal care boarding homes were the most likely alternative for low to moderate-income older people who needed supports in a residential setting. The study found that these personal care homes were not an acceptable model as they generally did not promote privacy for the residents (often there were multiple beds in a room), and did not support independence, choice or personalization of the residential environment.

Through the study the Center defined our philosophy that a resident should be thought of as being both physically and mentally well and capable of living in an independent living situation. A resident should be given the appropriate supports as needed to retain his independence rather than being though of as "sick" or unable to conduct himself as an independent person. What we began to identify was a model which looked more like an "assisted living residence" where each resident could have a single occupancy studio apartment. Adjacency to the Center would provide access to Center programs and activities. The housing would be a "social" model, not a "medical" model, and the goals for the residential environment would include personalization, control, privacy, and choice. Residents would be given access to services as needed. The residents would be part of the Center in the Park's community but also be part of the surrounding neighborhood. The Center identified a property immediately behind its current building as a possible site for housing. The study produced a document modestly titled: Beating the Boarding Home Blues: An audacious proposal to demonstrate a model assisted living residence for lower income frail elderly at a reasonable cost they can't afford to pay.

As a result of the study, the William Penn Foundation hired a consultant to negotiate purchase of the various parcels of land needed to build the housing. In addition, the Foundation gave the Center $1,000,000 for bricks and mortar, with the interest to be added to the principle so that construction dollars could grow while we further studied the project.

In 1997, the project moved forward when the William Penn Foundation authorized release of a small amount of the interest earned from our $1,000,000 grant to fund consultants and staff to further investigate a model. We clarified several important issues during this phase as follows:

The Assisted Living Model was not a viable model for Center in the Park's housing.

The state of Pennsylvania does not now have (and did not have in 1997) any regulation, definition or legislation regarding Assisted Living Residences. The majority of facilities calling themselves Assisted Living in Pennsylvania are licensed as Personal Care Homes. In Pennsylvania, the standards for Personal Care Homes are weak and enforcement is also weak. The Personal Care Home was a model we had already rejected. (There is currently a bill in the PA House and one in the PA Senate which are attempting to define and regulate assisted living in Pennsylvania. Each bill comes from a different philosophical perspective, but that's another discussion.)

In addition, the state of Pennsylvania does not have public funding for assisted living services. The tobacco settlement and increased funding for family care givers offers hope for the future, which our project may be able to take advantage of down the road.

Through market studies, the target population in our community was identified as those who need supportive services in the low to moderate-income bracket of $15,000 to $25,000.

A market study funded by the Enterprise Foundation confirmed the market and demographics of our community as follows:

  1. Quality personal care "beds" for older people are very limited;

  2. Incomes in our community for those who are age 75 plus are modest. However, older adult households in the $15,000 to $25,000 range are projected to increase to 21% of the 75 plus demographic by 2002;

  3. There is a demand at all income levels for additional assisted living type units.

  4. Moderate income households have the fewest options with regard to assisted living placements;

  5. There is market support for a mixed income facility as there is a need at all income levels for additional assisted living type units.

We needed a model which would be most flexible in meeting the housing needs and wants of our Center members.

The Assisted Living Work Group of the Pennsylvania Intra-Governmental Council on Long Term Care spent three years trying to figure out how long-term care should be provided in Pennsylvania. The Council found that most consumers continue to say that the three things they most want are to stay independent and live at home as long as possible; respect and dignity for the individual; and a choice of options for long term care and services.

A survey was done of Center members. It was determined that housing associated with the Center was highly desirable to the members. In addition, it was found that a significant number of members live in their own single-family freestanding homes. In order to appeal to this population, we could not rely on efficiency units and instead went to one-bedroom units with a kitchenette and a full bath in each unit.

We began to think of our housing as an independent living apartment building, which would be desirable to those who can live without supports as well as those who need supports. Common space on the ground floor allows for integration of programs, activities and services between the residence and the Center. Spaces such as a computer lab, library and dining room are on the first floor. The "conference room" is designed to also be a private dining room for special events and parties for the residents.

The Service Coordinator, hired by the Center, will provide assessment of residents when they move in and provide an annual update to identify services that may be needed. Our goal had evolved to more than just finding a better alternative to boarding homes. In fact we wanted to "pull" people into our housing, not "push" them in. We wanted a model that people would choose to live in, and not see it as their only alternative.

As a result, the Center redefined its goals for the project as:

  1. To provide a housing alternative for all older adults in the community who can function independently with supports in an apartment setting and who meet financial criteria.

  2. To provide housing which offers access to services for all residents.

  3. To allow residents to age in place with community supports regardless of their ability to pay for services.

And finally, the Center was able to identify a project team of consultants, who have worked as our partners and lead us through an incredibly complex process. Our first and most essential consultant is Fairmount Ventures, who helped us identify the government funds available for construction. Fairmount also helped us to structure the scenario for subsidizing services using the William Penn money as an endowment. Fairmount has stayed with us, helping to clarify and evaluate the hugely complex financial structure of a tax credit project. They have also been invaluable in the creation of pro formas to ensure that we can subsidize services without dipping into the endowment principle.

With the help of Fairmount we selected a co-developer with Center in the Park, Pennrose Properties, Inc. through a rigorous RFQ and RFP process. Pennrose was selected because of their superb track record in development of affordable housing. Pennrose views the Center as a true partner in the process, and has allowed the project to reflect the philosophy and priorities of the Center to the extent possible given the regulatory constraints. In addition, Pennrose Management will manage the project, with the commitment to mentor the Center who will become the eventual manager and owner of the housing. The architect and contractor for the project were also selected via an RFQ and RFP process. They have worked as a team on previous projects for Pennrose.

The proposed 70 unit housing facility is an innovative and effective response to an identified need. It is our hope that the project will serve as a replicable model in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and other states with similar problems of creating affordable assisted living type housing.

The page was last modified on August 14, 2001