Lewis Griswold

Visalia Senior Housing pays off 40-year HUD mortgage

Mollie Epperson, left, and DeLila Ferguson Schweizer, help Lendell Sims burn the mortgage on The Meadows, an affordable housing project for seniors built in 1974. Sims served as administrator of The Meadows for 28 years until his retirement this year.
Mollie Epperson, left, and DeLila Ferguson Schweizer, help Lendell Sims burn the mortgage on The Meadows, an affordable housing project for seniors built in 1974. Sims served as administrator of The Meadows for 28 years until his retirement this year. Special to The Bee

Visalia Senior Housing celebrated a major milestone last week by burning the 40-year mortgage papers for The Meadows, the first affordable housing project for seniors in town.

The 100-unit development on West Tulare Avenue opened in 1974.

The mortgage papers were torched Thursday night at a dinner at Visalia United Methodist Church. Founding board members Mollie Epperson and DeLila Ferguson Schweizer were there.

The final payment actually occurred a year and half ago, but it took awhile for the paperwork to go through so the ceremony had to wait.

Visalia Senior Housing was started in the early 1970s by four local churches: Christ Lutheran Church, First Christian Church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and the Methodist Church.

The nonprofit group borrowed $1,268,900 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Section 8 program.

“There’s really a need” for affordable senior housing, president Roger Johnson said. “People can age in place with dignity and pride.”

Marian Achenbach, 85, is one of those seniors. She has lived at The Meadows for more than 10 years and pays $484 a month rent for her one-bedroom apartment.

“I just like the whole atmosphere,” she said. “It’s wide open and there are trees. It is spread out. You walk out the door and you’re outside. I’m perfectly content here.”

Achenbach survives on Social Security.

Her husband died 20 years ago after they raised seven children in Thousand Oaks. She moved to Visalia, where a daughter and her husband live, and eventually got on the waiting list.

Since The Meadows opened, three additional affordable housing apartments for seniors have been built in Visalia: Town Meadows (100 units) and Oak Meadows (60 units) near downtown Visalia, and Sierra Meadows (42 units) on East Tulare Avenue.

All have a waiting list.

Lupe Hart, 84, has been a resident of Oak Meadows for five years. The rent for her one-bedroom apartment is $264 a month. She also survives on Social Security.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s a beautiful facility. It’s got everything.”

Not only is it next to the Visalia Senior Center, it’s safe, she said: “The doors lock at 4 p.m.”

Christian Church Homes in Oakland manages the four facilities and has managed The Meadows since the beginning, said portfolio manager Shannon Williams.

“It’s a phenomenal 40-year partnership,” she said. “We like it that seniors can have dignity. They pay the rent and have discretionary income and live in safe, affordable housing and stay cool and warm.”

Rents are based on income, she said. Residents pay 30 percent of their income on rent. As a rule, individuals can have a yearly income of up to $33,000 and couples up to $37,000 a year.

Christian Church Homes partnered with Visalia Senior Housing on the last two projects and hopes to do so again because the need for affordable housing is growing.

“As the baby boomers are aging, we are ill-equipped in affordable housing for seniors,” she said. “It’s called ‘the gray tsunami.’ 

Lewis Griswold covers the news of the South Valley for The Fresno Bee: 559-441-6104, lgriswold@fresnobee.com, @fb_LewGriswold

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