With three-year waiting lists, Naperville Elderly Homes wants to add 60 units

The wait is at least three years to get a one-bedroom unit from Naperville Elderly Homes at Martin Avenue Apartments.

It's half that time for a studio, but most seniors who apply for the low-income housing option aren't easily able to wait even 18 months, says building manager Anthony Hacker.

"They're stuck living in a more expensive apartment for longer," he said. "Or they have to move in with their kids."

Naperville Elderly Homes hopes to decrease its wait times through an expansion project that could bring between 45 and 60 new apartments to the 121-unit nonprofit complex by 2019.

"We do struggle every day trying to get to people on the list," Hacker said. "Being able to build 60 more units will truly help that population."

The organization is seeking support from several sources for what's estimated as a $11 million to $14 million project, said Dave Weeks, Naperville Elderly Homes' board president. He said money could come mainly from a federal low-income housing tax credit, with assistance from a potential DuPage County grant and donations from companies and individuals. Weeks and other board members also reached out to the Naperville City Council, which plans to voice its support in a resolution.

The idea would be to rent the new units to people with lower incomes than current tenants of the building at 310 Martin Ave., Weeks said.

"We're not interested in building something for people who have other options," he said. "There just aren't many options for people that only have $10,000 or $14,000 of annual income."

Naperville Elderly Homes always has aimed to provide a place for seniors on low incomes since it was created in the mid-1960s. That's when a group of residents took a survey and determined the need for low-income senior housing was "overwhelming," the nonprofit says on its website.

So the group of residents gained support from the Naperville Council of Churches in 1965 and established Naperville Elderly Homes two years later. The group's 121-unit building with a lounge and two craft rooms opened in March 1973. Then, people 62 and older with an annual income less than $6,200 could move in for $129 or $149 in monthly rent.

Forty-three years later, the minimum age remains the same, but seniors now must make less than $43,000 a year for one person or $49,200 a year for two people to qualify, Hacker said. Rent is set at 30 percent of the tenant's income for a maximum of $422 a month for a studio or $471 a month for a one-bedroom.

The apartments don't come with nursing care, but a shuttle bus drives residents to buy groceries, and Edward Hospital is just down the street.

Karen Courney, co-chairwoman of the city of Naperville's senior task force, said Naperville Elderly Homes is providing a needed answer to the question of how to make independent housing attainable. She's optimistic the project to expand Martin Avenue Apartments can move forward in the next few years.

So is Weeks, 65, who said he's motivated partially by the failing health of his 92-year-old parents to make sure all seniors have a place to live.

"We're doing everything we can to give a higher quality of life," Weeks said. "I'm pretty proud of what we do."

  Built in 1973, the Martin Avenue Apartments complex in Naperville has 121 apartments and is looking to expand. A project to construct a separate building on the campus at 310 Martin Ave. could add between 45 and 60 units by 2019. Daniel White/
  Naperville Elderly Homes offers 40 one-bedroom homes like this one at Martin Avenue Apartments. Daniel White/
  Seniors with limited incomes must wait at least three years on a waiting list for a one-bedroom unit like this one at Martin Avenue Apartments operated by Naperville Elderly Homes. Daniel White/
  Down hallways like this, Naperville Elderly Homes offers 40 one-bedroom units and 81 studios for low-income seniors at Martin Avenue Apartments. Daniel White/
  Bingo is popular at Martin Avenue Apartments in Naperville, a low-income housing option for seniors that offers a shuttle to grocery stores and social activities but no nursing care. Daniel White/
  Senior residents of Martin Avenue Apartments in Naperville can gather in this common space at the complex, built in 1973 by Naperville Elderly Homes. Daniel White/
  Computers and books are included in a study area offered by Naperville Elderly Homes at Martin Avenue Apartments. Daniel White/
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