The first thing that I noticed about Main Cross Senior Apartments was the size. This is because I parked in the wrong place and had to walk around the entire block to find the entrance. The apartments are located on the second and third floor of Mount Sterling, KY’s downtown city block known as Hobbes Block. They sit above many shops and boutiques and span 10 ornate Victorian-style buildings, holding 51 units, a mix of one and two bedrooms apartments. The second thing I noticed was the shortcut between the buildings from the actual porch of the complex that led directly back to my car. I felt silly that I missed it but I couldn’t help but notice how convenient it was for the residents to access the rest of downtown.
Greeting me at the entrance was Lisa Green, the property manager and employee of Community Housing Partners (CHP), a Fahe Member. She was joined by three of the residents taking in the morning sun on the cold spring morning. As she led me inside to her office, I walked through a spacious lobby filled with tables, chairs, and wheel chair ramps. I also noticed quite a few finishing nails sitting empty on the walls.
Lisa’s office is full of files and on her wall hangs a news article from the Mount Sterling Advocate describing the opening of the Main Cross Apartments and the impact the renovation of the deteriorating buildings from the late 1800s had on community pride.
Lisa has been familiar with Main Cross for some time having previously worked as a housekeeper, then an administrative assistant, and finally the property manager for eight different properties, including Main Cross Apartments. “I think it’s important that we’re here and that seniors have a place they can afford,” she said. “Some of our residents previously owned homes but most came from other apartments were they couldn’t afford the rent. Residents pay 30% of their income for rent and electricity and we take care of the water and trash,” she said. “They’re also within walking distance of a lot of stores, including a small grocery, the post office, the electric company, churches, and a local history museum.”
Because of the affordable cost and central location, the apartments often have a waiting list. Right now, however, there are vacancies but people on the list can’t move in just yet. “Only 43 of the units are currently occupied so that we don’t have to relocate any of the seniors during the construction.”
The construction, which Fahe is helping to fund, is very important for the future of the Main Cross Apartments. It will extend the useful life of the buildings, improve comfort for the residents, and it will improve the energy efficiency of the building allowing the residents to save more money on monthly utility bills. In addition to providing better housing, the renovation is providing jobs for local construction contractors. The project is anticipated to be complete by December 2013. When the construction is finished it is expected that the people on the waiting list will fill the empty apartments quickly.
The units in renovation are spacious. Boxes for new light fixtures and ENERGY STAR-rated appliances covered the floor. The apartments were also well lit from natural light coming through the larger windows (also being replaced) and they had a great view of Mount Sterling’s historic downtown area.
As you tour the apartment’s hallways, it’s easy to tell that it spans different buildings due to the change in elevations and inclusion of a skywalk. Multiple ramps and accessible stairs easily handle these elevation shifts. As Lisa took me through, we passed several residents who were delivering food or other items to their neighbors. They waved and smiled but all were too shy to tell me their thoughts on living here. “Many of the residents don’t have family that’s close by,” Lisa says as we pass one gentlemen who was delivering empty boxes to his friend. “Most of them consider their neighbors to be family and they look out for each other.”
Before we exited the building I noticed a large unfinished puzzle sitting on a table next to the door. Lisa informed me that some of the seniors and one of the ladies from housekeeping (after her shift) spend time putting puzzles together for the residents. Once they’re finished, they glue and mount them and hang the puzzles in various places around the apartment building. She pointed out the empty finishing nails that I saw on the walls when I first entered. “Each of those nails is a place that the residents have picked for the next puzzle to go.”
Out front, two of the men were still there talking. One man, Palmer Davis, was less shy than otherresidents but was still a man of few words. “I’ve lived here for 6 years. These apartments are a good place to live.”
The other gentleman was more talkative but asked for his name to not be recorded so we’ll refer to him as Doug. He has lived in the complex for 5 years. A former community college teacher, Doug spent most of his life in Daytona Beach, Florida. After retiring from teaching psychology and statistics, he returned to his hometown of Mt. Sterling. “I’m very happy to be here [in Main Cross Apartments]. It’s a good place for seniors. The central location is the best part and it’s something we can all afford.”
As I was taking the shortcut back to my car, the third thing I noticed about Main Cross Apartments was that I wouldn’t mind living there because of the high quality of the apartments, the exterior aesthetics of the buildings, and the central location. Affordable senior housing is a growing concern in Appalachia and places like Main Cross Apartments are good examples of how creative adaptation of existing buildings can address both a housing issue and restore civic pride.
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