Apartments at former Johnsburg school site fill need for affordable senior housing
A transformation of a former Johnsburg elementary school property into 68 affordable apartments for people 55 and older is underway, with construction set to be completed later this year.
The $20-plus million redevelopment is just one of many projects that would be necessary to fill the dearth of housing available to McHenry County seniors with limited incomes, though, said Kim Ulbrich, the executive director of the McHenry County Housing Authority, which administers local affordable housing programs.
"We do know that rentals we have an extreme shortage of, period, whether it's affordable or not. But definitely a shortage of affordable rentals in the county. It's really at a crisis situation," Ulbrich said. "There is still a tremendous need."
Most income-restricted retirement communities have traditionally used 62 and older as the limiting age, she said.
But there is a lot of demand for affordable housing among people in their 50s, too, since more experienced members of the workforce are often the first to be shed by employers during economic downturns, a trend that was seen here during the Great Recession, Ulbrich said, and may be playing out again as the COVID-19 pandemic weighs on commercial activity across the globe.
The redevelopment, to be called Berkshire Johnsburg, was made possible by a $750,000 sale of the old James C. Bush Elementary site at 2117 W. Church St. from Johnsburg School District 12 to Milwaukee-based General Capital, which spearheaded the project, said Josh Hafron, a representative of the company.
"The other positive of senior housing like this is it can open up houses in Johnsburg for sale as seniors move into this. It creates some supply," Hafron said.
The Illinois Housing Development Authority also awarded the project $1.5 million in federal Section 42 tax credits annually for 10 years. The credits were purchased by a private sector investor to help finance the project, Hafron said.
"I believe that IHDA, they're seeing the need for 55 and older, and the developers are seeing the need. They're seeing that need to grab that younger adult," Ulbrich said.
Johnsburg officials also agreed to reimburse the developer up to $1.58 million in costs related to the project through the village's tax increment finance district program, which is also known as a TIF district. The project includes the developer making improvements to the village's water system and Johnsburg Road, Village Administrator Claudett Sofiakis said.
"These public improvements are beneficial to Johnsburg's downtown area as they will serve more than just the development itself," Sofiakis said.
There has already been a strong amount of interest shown in the property by dozens of potential tenants, who must meet income qualifications to ultimately be approved to lease one of the units in the project.
"We are excited about the Berkshire development and pleased with the progress being made," Johnsburg Village President Ed Hettermann said, adding the demographic eligible to be housed in the project is thought to be "underserved in the village."
There will be 13 apartments in the former school building, once it is repurposed, and the remainder of the 68 total units will be in a three-story structure newly built on the site. There will be nine two-bedroom units in the completed project and the rest will be one-bedroom apartments.
Monthly rents will be $920 for a one-bedroom, including all utilities except electricity, and $1,105 for a two-bedroom, Hafron said. A list of those interested in living in the community is being maintained, and it can be joined online at berkshire-johnsburg.com.
Ulbrich encourages qualified residents to put their names on waiting lists for affordable housing, because even candidates toward the back of long lines can get selected when a unit becomes available, since those who may have signed up earlier are not always able or wanting to move into an affordable unit when one is brought onto the market.