Mt. Si Senior Center seeks funds to preserve senior, low-income housing

Center eyes 28-unit apartment in North Bend for sale.

By Carol Ladwig

By the end of June, the low-income apartment building Cascade Park Apartments in North Bend could go on the open market. It’s already up for sale, but because of its origins as a rural development project by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, right now, the 28-unit building represents a golden opportunity for the Mt. Si Senior Center.

“This is being offered only to local nonprofits until June 30,” said Susan Kingsbury-Comeau, Executive Director of the Mt. Si Senior Center, adding that the building “represents nearly half of the affordable housing for seniors in the entire Valley,”

She’s not exaggerating; the senior center owns and operates the other, slightly larger half of the Valley’s dedicated senior housing options, the 39-unit Sno Ridge Apartments neighboring Cascade Park Apartments. Both buildings offer federally subsidized housing for people ages 62 and older. Both buildings also have waiting lists more than two years long.

To buy the Cascade Park Apartments, asking price $4,475,000, Kingsbury-Comeau said the senior center would need a combination of financing. These include assuming the approximately $1 million federal loan the building is currently owing, and a commercial loan. Kingsbury-Comeau estimates the center could qualify for a loan of $1.5 million, leaving a $2 million gap and just over three months to generate it.

It’s not the kind of money that a crowdfunding campaign can raise in short order, Kingsbury-Comeau said, and it’s not something the senior center has the resources to make happen. Grant applications aren’t a viable option since most granting agencies take applications in the fall and award funding in the spring.

“We’re trying to get as creative as we can,” she added. “Our next stage is to reach out to our electeds and see if they can find funds.”

That work has already begun, as the senior center, with North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing as an advocate, connected with state legislators and county officials in the past few weeks to discuss possible funding sources.

Mt. Si Senior Center’s revenue in 2017 was $1,785,000, about $30,000 more than its expenditures for the year. That’s despite three straight years of senior center funding cuts from the county, Kingsbury-Comeau pointed out. Those budget cuts forced the center to get creative, too, bringing in such programs as its monthly rainbow bingo fundraisers, featuring dinner, drinks and a drag queen bingo caller.

“This isn’t your grandmother’s bingo,” Kingsbury-Comeau said, and she’s happy to see that the program has “found its audience” here.

She’s also looking forward to increased county funding through the veterans and human services levy that county voters approved last November, but says that funding will be allocated through a very competitive process, in increments unlikely to help with the purchase of Cascade Park Apartments.

“The levy is going to allow us to be doing more of what we should be doing,” she said, including caregiver support programs, community building and increased programming. “We’re introducing 48 weeks of evidence-based programming for seniors in the next 52 weeks. Among the programs will be a return of the extremely successful Baby Boomer Bootcamp from 2017 and the introduction of a group travel program.

Those programs will go on regardless of the fate of Cascade Park Apartments, which Kingsbury-Comeau said many residents are beginning to worry about, “and rightfully so,” she said.

“If this goes up on the open market, we have to hope whoever swings the deal doesn’t have profit-making in mind.”