February 16, 2011

A seven-member nonprofit board in Wagner has secured more than $1 million in federal, state and local support to revitalize a low-income housing facility for the elderly in the small town.

The board has purchased and will renovate the 34-unit Heritage Court in Wagner. They closed on the facility Jan. 7 and changed the name to Parkview Villa. Renovations are expected to be complete by Dec. 31.

The group has been working diligently for two years to address housing needs for the elderly. The members haven't earned a dime, but none of them is in it for the money.

"Because of our local affiliation with management and ownership, people have trust in us to do what we say we're going to do," said Bryan Slaba, CEO of Wagner Community Memorial Hospital-Avera and the board's leader. "The reason we got involved in this was for one thing and one thing only, and that was to investigate and create housing for our elderly in our community."

The group plans to bid out the project in May and begin renovations in June. The hope is to award the project to a local contractor to sustain and create more jobs in Wagner, a city of about 1,500 people southwest of Mitchell and about 12 miles east of Fort Randall Dam.

Slaba said the facility, built in 1980, is in "dire need" of renovations. Only 10 of the 34 units are occupied now, but interest is growing, said Norm Cihak, Parkview Villa property manager and secretary-treasurer of the Parkview Villa board. He said six people are on the waiting list to move in after the project is complete, and he receives inquiries daily.

Cihak has managed the 26 units for elderly housing owned by Wagner Community Memorial Hospital-Avera since 2005. Those units have 29 people on the waiting list, evidence of the high demand for such housing.

"Now we're going to provide some excellent housing for the people in Wagner," Cihak said. "It's not a money-making thing for us. ... Sometimes I just can't believe it happened. It was a struggle, but it looks like it's going to be a reality, and it's for the community and the elderly, and I couldn't think of anything better."

The group secured a $1.1 million Neighborhood Stabilization Program loan through the South Dakota Housing Development Authority and almost $200,000 from USDA Rural Development.

Lorraine Polak, director of rental housing development for the South Dakota Housing Development Authority, describes the Parkview Villa board as a dedicated, energetic group. She said these projects typically are completed by large development corporations, but sometimes small towns such as Wagner can make it happen.

"They know housing is important for long-term viability," Polak said. "They're willing to step up to the plate and provide the assets to make it successful. Any time you have a nonprofit or volunteer board, that says a lot. They're taking their time to do it and not getting paid."

Polak said the money came from stimulus dollars designed to buy and redevelop foreclosed, abandoned or vacant property for the purpose of revitalizing neighborhoods.

Heritage Court was in the initial stage of the foreclosure process.

Polak said her organization generally wouldn't finance a property with low occupancy such as Heritage Court, but this was a special case.

"Knowing the dedication of this group, knowing there is a housing need, and they just need to create housing that people want to live in, feel comfortable in, and know they're being taken care of ... that's what we're getting from this group," Polak said. "They care about their community, they care about providing them housing."

Dorla Fischer, 77, has her name on the waiting list for Parkview Villa. She's not ready to move out of her home just yet, but the space is becoming too big and difficult to manage. Fischer said she had her name on two different waiting lists in Wagner before she learned that Parkview Villa soon would be renovated.

"There's a lot of us in the same boat," Fischer said. "I have a big house. It's too big for me. I need something smaller."