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Low-income senior housing proposed for Duluth

8December 2021

DULUTH — A Minneapolis developer is proposing 112 units of assisted living housing for low-income seniors in Duluth’s East Hillside neighborhood, potentially joining two other nearby projects in denting the city’s housing crisis and reshaping the surrounding neighborhood.

LaSalle Development will seek low-income housing tax credits from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency next month, following Monday’s vote of required support from the Duluth City Council. The four-story apartment building would sit on the upper side of the 700 block of East Fourth Street.

“This type of project is a home run,” said Jason Hale, the city’s senior housing planner. “It’s checking multiple boxes.”

Aside from the need for affordable assisted living options for seniors, it could open space for those who need single-family homes when those seniors move to assisted living and put their homes on the market, , he said.

A recent Maxfield Research and Consulting housing analysis said Duluth could need up to 3,500 new affordable housing units by 2024.

The proposed apartment building is aimed at seniors using the state’s Medical Assistance-eligible Elderly Waiver program, said Tom LaSalle, owner and president of the LaSalle Group.

“These are seniors who have spent down their net worth and have physical and health problems,” he said.

Recently passed legislation increases their care payments, he said, in an attempt to move more people into assisted living — where they can be more social but still receive needed care — rather than more expensive nursing homes. And Duluth is an underserved market, LaSalle said.

Residents would pay no more than 30% of the area median income, and all units would be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. With services, that could mean $450 to $700 a month as opposed to the $4,000 to $5,000 that market-rate senior housing might fetch, Hale said.

The proposed project joins others planned for the recently redone Fourth Street corridor. The nonprofit One Roof Community Housing is building a 52-unit affordable housing complex at Sixth Avenue East and Fourth Street, with 32 units meant for clients of Life House, an organization that supports homeless youth, and 10 for members of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Called Brewery Creek, it will open in 2023.

One Roof owns the condemned townhomes that sit between the two and is selling them to a still-undisclosed buyer, who will renovate them into about 15 units, expected to have an affordability aspect to them, said Jeff Corey, executive director of One Roof.

“We’re really excited about the transformation of the neighborhood. The block has long been underused and blighted,” Corey said, referring to the block his group is building on. “We’re looking forward to good things coming to that part of town.”

City Council Member Arik Forsman said that while it will likely take some continued investment from the city, he’s thrilled about the potential development of an entire block for affordable senior housing. He’s interested in seeing how that project will look next to the Brewery Creek apartments and the neighboring townhome renovations.

“With that much density, you have to do things carefully … but we have such a need right now, I want to see it wherever it can go,” Forsman said.

LaSalle said if the state approves the tax credits, the building, which was initially planned as a three-story and is now slated to be four, could open in 2024.

While the projects won’t solve the housing problem, Hale said, “every one of these is a win for our community, every project we can get.”

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