Originally published by The Advocate
A senior housing development is being planned for Gardere Lane, with the East Baton Rouge Parish Housing Authority’s development arm billing the project as a way to help vulnerable seniors, especially those affected by the August floods, while the parish experiences rental housing dearth.
The development, which local officials hope will address the tight rental market and community members hope will be a boon for the troubled Gardere area, will include both affordable and market-rate apartments and will be called Cypress at Gardere.
The nonprofit Partners Southeast development firm, which works with the Housing Authority, recently acquired the property at 515 Gardere Lane near Highland Road from Chase Bank for $450,000.
The four-story complex is being planned for 88 one-bedroom apartments and 11 two-bedroom apartments. Construction is expected to begin in early 2018 and finish about a year later.
“Our focus continues to be on our most vulnerable population, and seniors are that, especially post-flood,” said J. Daniels, the chief operating officer for Partners Southeast.
The complex will back up to Bayou Fountain. Although some neighborhoods around the bayou flooded in August, Daniels said the property where the apartment is being planned did not flood, nor did the adjacent Louisiana Soccer Association property.
Still, he said development’s elevation will be raised by 18 to 24 inches, just in case.
Daniels said the Cypress at Gardere is the first senior development Partners Southeast has taken on, and they hope to use it as a model for future developments.
Monika Gerhart, City Hall’s Office of Community Development director, said Baton Rouge was already experiencing a housing crisis before the floods wiped out roughly 13,000 rental units in August. And close to half of Baton Rouge’s renters at that point were spending 30 percent of their income on rent.
By February, the rental vacancy rate in Baton Rouge was down from its usual 7 percent to 3 to 4 percent, multifamily real estate appraiser Craig Davenport then told The Advocate.
“This is going to contribute to this badly needed mix of housing units,” Gerhart said of Cypress at Gardere.
Gardere community advocates also applauded the apartment complex, saying it can be one factor that helps to turn around the mostly low-income community marked by pockets of crime and blight.
Juan Cruz, a public health planner who advocates with the Gardere community, said the neighborhood is still trying to connect with the rest of the city, as forthcoming sidewalks and bike paths should entwine Gardere with other neighborhoods.
He also worried the complex might continue a trend of rental housing cluttering Burbank Drive over the past few years. The complexes on Burbank are mostly geared toward LSU students.
Still, Cruz said, Baton Rouge needs more senior housing, and the Cypress at Gardere development should have a “ripple effect.”
Murelle Harrison, executive director of the Gardere Initiative that tries to combat substance abuse and other social ills that affect the neighborhood, said Gardere is “moving in the direction we want to go.” She said she recently met with BREC about an upcoming $350,000 renovation for the Hartley-Vey Gardere park.
BREC will meet with people who live in the neighborhood to determine what new features the park will receive as part of the renovation, BREC spokesman Cheryl Michelet said.
“As we work to improve the community, we need to look at all age groups,” Harrison said. “Our focus has been mostly on the younger children and their families, but I do realize there are older people in the community that need a safe place and a healthy place.”
Daniels said it has not yet been determined how many apartments will be affordable or market-rate. But all people interested in living there will apply through the same manner — directly on-site or through the management company — and the management company will then determine who qualifies for an apartment at a lower price.
The planning of the development was done with seniors and their possible mobility issues in mind, he said. On its 4 acres, Cypress at Gardere may include a salon, a library, a theater room, a fitness room, walking trails and more.
The development also will be on the Capital Area Transit System bus line to help seniors who do not have cars or no longer drive, Daniels said.
CATS’ route 46 travels through Gardere Lane, and the route is bookended by the Mall of Louisiana and L’Auberge Casino and Hotel. The bus route also makes stops at Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Bluebonnet and Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.
Construction of the senior development is expected to cost around $17 million. The construction team includes CORE Construction and Legette Construction, with Legette qualifying as a minority owned business. People interested in construction jobs for building the complex can attend a meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday in room 313 of Southern University’s T.T. Allain Hall, or call Tyrone Legette at (504)340-0616.