Affordable senior housing complex in south Lawrence progresses

A view of the proposed Cedarwood Senior Cottages, a development for active seniors that Lawrence's Tenants to Homeowners plans to build in south Lawrence.

An innovative affordable senior housing complex in Lawrence will likely break ground in the fall.

Cedarwood Senior Cottages, which is being built by local nonprofit Tenants for Homeowners, will feature 14 individual one- or two-bedroom cottages, with a community room in the middle of the property. The project intends to meet a housing need locally for middle-income seniors — those who make too much to live in a subsidized apartment but not enough to afford a pricey senior living facility — who want to remain independent.

Tenants to Homeowners hopes Cedarwood Senior Cottages, which will be located behind the United Way building in south Lawrence near 25th and Cedarwood, can serve as a model for future senior housing projects in the community.

“What we’re trying to do is something I don’t think you’ve seen in Lawrence yet: affordable senior housing that will have the kids of features that allow seniors to age in place,” said Robert Baker, resource development director for Tenants to Homeowners, adding that residents will have “the joys of homeownership but none of the responsibilities.” “If someone wants to be on their own, we want to make sure we’re giving them the tools to stay there as long as possible.”

The need for affordable senior housing is only likely to increase, with the baby boomer generation reaching retirement age. An estimated 10,000 Americans will turn 65 every day through 2029. Meanwhile, a local retiree attraction task force in 2012 identified affordable senior housing as a need in the community.

Cedarwood Senior Cottages will be energy efficient and use smart technology, such as a smart sensor system that can tell when there has been no movement in the home for a while and a touch screen kiosk in the community room with helpful information and resources. The cottages are fully accessible and will not have steps; an oblong walking path will connect to the back porch of each home, and there will be raised community gardens near the community room. The residences are private and will only be joined by the inner walls of the garages.

The Douglas County commissioners donated the land to Tenants to Homeowners. Much of the funding for the project is in place, Baker said, and will come from grants, state and federal affordable-housing dollars, Tenants to Homeowners project funds and private donations. Anyone making less than 80 percent of the area’s median income qualifies to rent one of the cottages, though Tenants to Homeowners hasn’t begun taking applications yet.

Tenants for Homeowners is also looking for senior ambassadors to help raise awareness about the project and provide referrals. Interested parties are encouraged to call 785-842-5494. In addition, the nonprofit is willing to speak to service organizations or community groups about the project, which is expected to be completed sometime in 2015.