On a recent sunny morning in the community room of Novation Senior Commons, Wendy Ray and Karen Cypher were in two armchairs in the corner, Ray with a notebook in hand, planning a calendar of events for their fellow residents of the 55-plus apartment complex off Rimrock Road.
The first residents moved into the building on Novation Parkway Aug. 1, and as of early November, 24 of the building’s 60 units were full. But according to Ray’s assessment, that number is sure to rise soon, due to the new building’s amenities, management and sense of community.
“It’s very light and happy in here,” Ray said. “When I walked in (for the first time), my whole body relaxed and I felt at home. I made up my mind then and there.”
Construction didn’t finish until early September, property manager Lori Simonson told the Star, and the ribbon-cutting was Oct. 25. Meanwhile, residents have been moving into the one- and two-bedroom apartments, and Ray and Cypher are planning community events like game nights and a “yappy hour” time to socialize.
Simonson started marketing the building in March, she said, and anticipates a lull in sales over the winter. But she’s optimistic the building will be full next spring or early summer.
Rents for the three basic unit types – one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms with one- or two–bathrooms – are kept artificially low compared to the market rate because of the way the building was financed. They rang from $899 a month for the one-bedroom to $1,099 for a two-bed, two-bath apartment. To qualify for the subsidized housing, the income cap is $38,520 per year for individuals and $44,040 for couples.
Bear Development used funding sources from seemingly every level of government to help with the cost of development, including tax-increment funding from the Town of Madison, HOME funds from Dane County, Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) debt and federal tax credits.
All this adds up to a bright, shiny new building with “great amenities,” resident Letitia Walker said, including underground parking, in-room washers and dryers, garden plots and an on-site property manager in Simonson who routinely addresses individual resident issues.
One example is a new sidewalk leading from a back entrance directly to the sun porch, which Simonson said was the result of a resident pointing out how many doors people had to go through to get outside and how tough that can be for people in wheelchairs.
The complex allows pets, including dogs up to 40 pounds. Simonson keeps a jar of dog biscuits on her desks and seems able to greet the pups by name, as well as the residents.
“That’s my job,” Simonson said, “to make sure the residents are as happy and comfortable as possible.”
Several units are outfitted for people with mobility, vision or hearing issues, featuring things like cutouts in the cabinets to allow room for the feet of a wheelchair to pass, lower peepholes in the doors, flashing lights in addition to doorbells, special non-slip carpeting and washers and dryers that sit side by side so people won’t have trouble reaching.
Kitchens in these units also have lower counters and stovetops to avoid having to reach to accomplish everyday tasks and lower light switches to make the entire apartment user-friendly.
While the apartments are limited by income and age – all residents must be 55 years or older – there is no health screening done on site, as the apartments are “strictly independent living,” Simonson said, and do not offer medical care.
Novation Senior Commons is part of a 62-acre site being developed by Alexander Group that abuts the Southdale neighborhood, bounded by Rimrock Road to the east, the Beltline to the north and Hwy. 14 to the west and south.
The Novation Campus plan calls for 1 million square feet of retail space, and it is already the site of many businesses including Unity Point Health - Meriter, Physicians Plus and Cardinal Health. There is also a gas station, a credit union, a trampoline park and a car dealership. But the nearest grocery store is 20 minutes away by car, according to a 2013 Dane County South Madison Food Enterprise study, which referred to the area as part of a food desert.
According to the study, a parcel of land has been set aside for a future grocery store.
Walker, who is the youngest resident and was one of the first to move in, said she’s excited about rumors she’s heard the site will add a Trader Joe’s grocery store soon, and she extolled the convenience of nearby bus lines.
Next up for the campus is a 169-unit “Artisan Village” that would provide “affordable workforce housing” for families. That project has received $1.2 million in state tax credits from WHEDA, and in material presented to the City Council, would provide workspace for artists or entrepreneurs who work from home.