Haven for seniors Affordability: The Fairbrooke Senior Apartment complex was designed for seniors who are still active, and the price is right.

March 01, 1998|By Bob Graham | Bob Graham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Four O'Clock Walking Group formed in August, shortly after the opening of Fairbrooke Senior Apartments in Aberdeen, a four-story facility designed for older people of the "active seniors" set.

Each afternoon, up to a dozen residents of this 122-unit apartment complex near Interstate 95 and Route 22 take a 30-minute walk from the complex to the Aberdeen Marketplace and back, chatting, exercising and enjoying each other's company.

It's exactly what the developers of Fairbrooke -- the first multilevel facility of its kind in Harford County -- envisioned. They sought to create affordable apartment living for seniors who don't want the burden of a large home and who don't need assisted living.

"The people here have a lot in common and we have a lot of fun," said Marianna Murray, 71, keeping pace with Martha Low, 77, who moved into Fairbrooke after living in a house in nearby Edgewood for 44 years.

James Ginsburg, president of the Waterfront Group, a Baltimore housing construction firm that developed the 7-acre site, wanted to create a facility that would bring seniors together, and therefore solve the problems of many seniors who otherwise might have been forced to move away from neighborhoods they have known for years.

"We had a lot of people who were leaving our city and the county," said Charles J. Boutin, Aberdeen's mayor.

"But Fairbrooke gives them an affordable way to stay near the place they call home."

Since Fairbrooke's opening last summer, about 75 percent of the units are occupied, with full occupancy expected by the end of the year, Ginsburg said.

Building upward was necessitated by the discovery of wetlands at the site, on which development is prohibited, said Neil Lemon, executive vice president of the Waterford Group and construction manager for the Fairbrooke project and several others in the Baltimore area.

Lemon and Ginsburg founded the Waterford Group in 1976, and since that time have developed several projects, including Burton Manor, a subsidized housing complex in Aberdeen, and Everall Gardens in Baltimore. But if it weren't for $3 million in housing tax credits from the state, which made financing the $8 million senior housing project attractive to First Union Bank, or the energetic support of local authorities eager to see more affordable housing for people over age 60, there might never have been a Four O'Clock Walking Group.

Fairbrooke's success is spurring interest in the county for construction of a similar facility, probably in the Bel Air area, if the Waterford Group can find an appropriate site and obtain state tax credits again -- a big if, Ginsburg said. There is much competition for the credits, which are awarded twice a year by the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

Fairbrooke met the criteria in 1996, in part because of its proximity to two shopping centers and public transportation, enabling seniors to get around without cars, and because of the demographics of Harford County.

The county's population of people 60 and over has doubled since 1983, according to its Office on Aging.

At Fairbrooke, residents of Harford County occupy the majority of one- and two-bedroom apartments, Ginsburg said. They pay between $460 and $560 for an average of 600 square feet of space, including living room, kitchen, a bedroom (or two in eight units) and a bathroom.

Forty apartments have balconies overlooking the parking lot in the front of the complex, and six of the apartments are modified for people with impaired mobility.

Ginsburg said market research indicates that, if not for the tax credits, rents would have ballooned to at least $700, which would have priced a large segment of the senior population out of the apartments.

To be considered, residents must have an annual income of between $11,000 and $23,350, while couples can have incomes of between $11,000 and $26,700. All must be at least 62 years old.

The typical resident has an income of between $20,000 and $24,000 and is a 70-year-old woman, according to Ginsburg.

Individuals live in the one-bedroom units, while couples can live in one of the eight, two-bedroom apartments, on each floor at the ends of the L-shaped, brick and yellow-vinyl-sided building.

"Fairbrooke definitely fills a niche in Harford County, and it's the kind of place that we could use more of," said Mark Carroll, client services manager for the Harford County Office on Aging.

Fairbrooke is the second senior housing facility in the county to use state tax credits to reduce the monthly payments for residents. Woodsdale Senior Housing opened several years ago off Route 924 in Abingdon, offering a single-level complex of senior housing.

Besides providing affordable housing, Fairbrooke offers a place for privacy or socialization, Ginsburg said.

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