The rehabilitation of a senior living facility is being hailed by St. Augustine officials as vital for the city. Southern Villas Apartments celebrated its grand re-opening Thursday with a ribbon cutting and tour.
The 60-unit complex off of Sunrise Boulevard was built for seniors and disabled people in 1981.
St. Johns Housing Partnership Executive Director Bill Lazar said his nonprofit purchased it several years ago and wants to make sure it stays up to par, which is why it teamed up with private developers Gorman and Co. for a total renovation.
In one of the units, Lazar pointed out upgrades like new floors and a wheelchair-accessible shower. Before the rehab, he said just six apartments were accessible to people with disabilities – now they all are.
The buildings all have new roofs and windows. There’s also now an on-site coordinator to help residents with anything from arranging transportation to dealing with scam phone calls.
“This allows about 69 seniors to remain living independently for as long they’re able to,” Lazar said.
In the brand new community room, Lazar said affordable housing really matters in St. Augustine, where a fifth of seniors here are considered cost-burdened according to Florida housing data, meaning they spend at least 30 percent of their income on housing.
“If rent goes up $20, they can’t make it,” he said.
He said there are only a couple complexes for low-income seniors in the city and if it wasn’t for his nonprofit’s buying the complex, it would have probably been turned into full-price condos.
“Some tenants live with less than $13,000 a year,” he said.
Congressman John Rutherford, R-FL4, thanked the partners for rescuing the property for the seniors.
“Without this group having stepped in...and taken that on, a lot of seniors would have been in dire, dire straits in St. Johns County,” Rutherford said during the grand-reopening.
To complete the renovation, Gorman, which co-owns the complex, helped secure about $2 million in tax credits from the state and rehab funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Gorman representative Hana Eskra said Southern Villas also gets U.S. Housing & Urban Development Department funding to subsidize rents.
“We can serve very, very low-income folks,” she said.
Lazar said that means if two people apply for an apartment, he has to select the one with lowest household income.