Senior housing gets $19.8 million makeover

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published March 3, 2016

 Rita Scott-Banks, 66, shows off her new doorwall Feb. 24 in her 10th-floor apartment at McDonnell Towers.

Rita Scott-Banks, 66, shows off her new doorwall Feb. 24 in her 10th-floor apartment at McDonnell Towers.

Photo by Deb Jacques

SOUTHFIELD — Two senior housing developments recently received a $19.8 million makeover compliments of a Michigan State Housing Development Authority tax credit.

Renovations are nearing completion at McDonnell Tower Apartments and River Park Place, 24400 and 24300 Civic Center Drive, respectively. McDonnell Tower Apartments is an 11-story apartment building with 162 units for seniors 62 and older, as well as subsidized apartments and assisted living units. The River Park Place apartment complex offers 245 subsidized rental housing units, including 182 units for seniors 62 and older, and an additional eight family townhomes. Construction began on the complexes in August last year.

According to Mayor Ken Siver, the Southfield Nonprofit Housing Corporation — of which he is the board president — partnered with the Southfield-based Larc Community Development Group and worked on behalf of the city to complete the makeover. Together, they secured MSHDA tax credit financing and a construction loan.

Siver said the goal of the renovations is to bring the buildings back up to what he refers to as the “Southfield standard.”

“I want everybody here to live in dignity and have a secure environment; just like that in a neighborhood, you have private enjoyment of your home,” Siver said.

Conditions of the complexes had been declining for years, he said, and residents had concerns with the safety and security of the buildings, as well as the cleanliness.

“The major complaints I was getting before all this was that the hot water was out, the elevators were out. They all had single-pane windows, and now they’re all double pane. It was drafty, and people were cold. Sometimes the heat was out, the air conditioning was out, and the apartments were just tired,” Siver said. “They were 1970s apartments. They were nice then, but they were tired.”

McDonnell resident Rita Scott-Banks, 66, said she had always wanted to live in the towers, but shortly after she moved in she realized residents didn’t like their living environment.

“The morale in this building — when I first moved here — I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t about the age of the people here, it was about the management here. The morale was low, and I couldn’t understand why everybody was so sad. To be honest with you, I wanted to move,”

Scott-Banks said. “Now I feel better. Everybody’s friendly. The morale is up because of the fact we have all-new appliances and everything is new versus the way it was before. And all the little critters are gone, which is an awesome thing.”

The apartments are now under new management and have received an upgraded security system, with key fobs and cameras. Scott-Banks said there were some instances of nonresidents sleeping in hallways.

“We should know who is coming and going here,” Siver said. “I don’t want anybody in this building to be victimized.”

Not only are the apartments receiving extensive exterior and interior renovations, they will also receive energy efficiency upgrades to lower monthly utility costs for residents and reduce the carbon footprint of the buildings, Siver said. A new activities center in the annex of the buildings will be added, with a café, a game room and an exercise room.

So far, electrical upgrades have been completed, exterior windows and new roofs have been installed, as have new heating and cooling systems, including hot water tanks, according to a news release.

Upgrades to the kitchens include new cupboards, flooring, appliances and lighting, and a fire suppression system above the stove.

Bathrooms have received new lighting fixtures; ceramic tile flooring; high-rise, low-water-use toilets; new emergency pull-cords; and sinks equipped with vanities.

For residents with limited mobility or who are wheelchair users, around 25 apartments are being converted into handicapped-accessible units with wider doorways and roll-in showers.

“(The residents) are extremely happy, and they’ve been waiting a long time to have the new upgrades,” said Michele Henderson, a manager at Lockwood, the company that manages the apartments. “We’re very happy for them. Most of our residents have lived here a very long time, so they’re excited to have the new apartments.”

The SNHC is organized exclusively to provide housing facilities to build communities and preserve access to affordable housing for seniors, the physically disabled and families who meet income eligibility requirements, according to a news release. MSHDA, its website says, provides financial and technical assistance to create and preserve safe and decent affordable housing through public and private partnerships through the sale of tax-exempt and taxable bonds and notes to private investors. Larc is an organization dedicated to developing and preserving affordable housing units, according to its website.

“Once the projects are completed, residents will be proud to call the properties home, and they will serve as a model for what future affordable housing can and should be in Southfield, Oakland County and throughout southeast Michigan,” Siver said in a news release. 

Siver said apartment renovations are slated to wrap up in June, and the activities center renovations will wrap up in November.