"Ain't nothing like it, oh just ain't nothing like it!" 75-year-old Geneva Lewis repeatedly proclaimed when asked about her new home at Central Crossings in Vanceburg, Kentucky. "I just can't believe it!" Geneva continued. "I just love it! It is so quiet. At night when I go to bed I can go right to sleep."
After Geneva's husband died, she rented an old mobile home located on the banks of the Ohio River, eight miles from Vanceburg, in Lewis County, an isolated and sparsely populated rural area in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, located in northeastern Kentucky. "The windows were bad and there were holes in the walls. I burned up in the summer and froze in the winter. I would go to bed at night, but I couldn't sleep," Geneva continued. Rent and utilities for the substandard housing took more than half of Geneva's monthly Social Security/ Supplemental Security Income check, which at $753 per month, was her only source of income.
The percentage of persons 65 and older in Lewis County has been growing steadily for decades. According to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts, the percentage has increased from 14.7 percent in 2010 to 17.5 percent in 2016.(1) In that same time-period, the population in Lewis County has decreased over 3 percent to 13,442, due in part to the out migration of Lewis County's younger population in their search for meaningful employment.
The plea for elderly, worry-free, and affordable housing in or near Vanceburg has been growing louder over the past decade. At the local grocery store, restaurant or convenient mart, elderly folks, especially elderly widows, were asking our staff at People’s Self-Help Housing (PSHH), if we had any affordable rental properties for someone like them. Most were lifetime homeowners who no longer wanted to have the worries of fixing a leaking roof, cutting their grass, or finding a way to get to town to pick up groceries or see a doctor.
PSHH responded to this need by convening a group of these persistent inquirers to determine what type of housing would be ideal for them:
- "Just a small, quiet apartment with privacy but also a porch to visit with neighbors."
- "A covered place where I can get into my home from a car without getting wet."
- "No steps and a big enough bathroom with wide enough doors for my wheelchair."
- "Someplace in Vanceburg where I can walk to the store or the bank and medical facilities are close by."
- "A place where someone cuts the grass and shovels the snow off the driveway."
All of these requests were successfully incorporated into the design of PSHH's Central Crossings development, which provides 12 mixed-income apartments for residents, ages 62 and over in a community setting within walking distance of downtown Vanceburg. The units, which include attached carports and spacious porches, are not only quiet, they are also very energy-efficient with detailed air sealing at all stages of construction to eliminate cold drafts in the winter and keep out hot, humid air in the summer. The units achieved an average Home Energy Rating Score (HERS) of 45, meaning that they are 55 percent more energy efficient than current standard new construction, resulting in greatly reduced utility usage and lower monthly bills.
PSHH's Central Crossings includes two duplexes, which received financing through the Kentucky Affordable Trust Fund, to serve households below 30 percent of the area median income. Two more duplexes were financed through the HOME program to serve households below 60 percent of the area median income. Four other single-family units were financed by PSHH's revolving Loan Fund and are designated for households in the 60-120 percent median income range.
Central Crossings has produced some amazing results! The residents get to know their neighbors while sitting on their porches or working in their well-tended flower beds while the sounds of young children playing outdoors at recess carry over the grounds from the elementary school across the street. Those who have cars give rides to those without transportation when they need to go to the store or to medical appointments. Nine widows and three elderly couples fill the twelve units. Residents appreciate their worry-free independent living and their community of peers.
Now, PSHH staff continue to receive inquiries from the elderly when at the local store or during community events. "Are you going to be building more apartments like Central Crossings?" they are often asked. "I would love to have a place like that!" Local officials and businesses also appreciate PSHH's highly visible work in Vanceburg. The project resulted in the removal of two dilapidated homes on the main thoroughfare into the city and replaced them with attractive, well maintained housing for elderly Lewis County residents.
As elsewhere in rural areas throughout the country, the percentage of elderly population will continue to rise rapidly in the next decade or two. There will definitely be a need for many more apartments like Central Crossings.
What ideas do you have to help create energy-efficient, affordable housing in Appalachian areas?
Dave Kreher, guest blogger, is the executive director of People's Self-Help Housing, Inc., which has been providing affordable housing opportunities in Lewis County since 1982. PSHH construction crews have built 355 new homes, repaired over 900 existing homes, developed, manages and maintains 146 affordable rental units, including 5 emergency shelter apartments over the past 35 years. Visit www.pshhinc.org.
1 U.S. Census Bureau, QuickFacts