Officials from Harlem and Walton Rehabilitation Health System donned white construction hats Thursday morning as they gathered to mark the groundbreaking of a new affordable housing community for seniors.
The ceremony was Walton Rehab's second groundbreaking in the past week, and, once completed, the $1.6 million project on Planer Mill Road in Harlem will feature 15 one-bedroom units for economically disadvantaged seniors.
"The fact that their rent is based on their income is a big plus," said Kisha Spann, the residential services operations manager. "It definitely has a lasting effect on them."
Walton Rehab already has 11 communities that serve either seniors or the disabled. Another project is also under way on Richmond Hill Road that will have five one-bedroom and eight two-bedroom units for the disabled.
Construction on the community in Harlem -- to be known as Planer Mill Village -- should be completed within six to nine months, said Beth Miller, the vice president of Walton Community Services.
"This is our first rural project for seniors," she said. "It will really fit in well with what we've been doing."
The projects are made possible through a partnership between Walton Rehab and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The federal department provided the capital advance for the construction and also subsidizes the housing.
In exchange, the community is operated under guidelines from the department for at least 40 years, Miller said.
To qualify for one of the Planer Mill units, a person must be at least 62 years old with a yearly income no greater than $19,500, Spann said.
Seniors usually are placed on a list, with a wait of nine months to a year, she said.
Walton Rehab tries to foster a sense of community through events such as dances and bingo nights, Spann said. Residents also can work in their yards as they see fit.
"It's very therapeutic for them," she said. "It keeps them active."
Spann, who lives in a manager unit at Walton Terrace on Richmond Hill Road, started working with Walton Rehab as a volunteer nine years ago and was living in one of the units because she used a wheelchair to cope with a chronic illness that affects her muscles.
She said the handicap-friendly units are good because they feature amenities such as curbless sidewalks, lowered light switches, wide doorways and grab bars.
"(Before) I was just trapped in my environment," Spann said.