Buckeye Fields: Affordable Construction for Affordable Housing


The land proposed for Buckeye Fields.

Buckeye Fields Senior Apartments is planned to be built on this picturesque piece of land just outside Marietta, Ohio.

This blog is part two of four on our recent proposal for Buckeye Fields Senior Apartments. Read Part 1 here.

One of our goals for the Buckeye Fields application is to reduce the cost of development, so as to keep payments on our permanent mortgage low and in turn allow us to keep rents low. At the same time, we wanted to design a quality property that seniors would find appealing and desirable. So how could we do that?

First came the cost of the land. The Buckeye Hills Regional Council (BHRC), a council of governments that serves eight counties in southeastern Ohio, knew that Washington County owned a big tract of land just outside the historic city of Marietta, land that was part of the Washington County Home. The County Home was founded in the 1830s as an early kind of social welfare provision: people who were indigent, sick, disabled, elderly, or otherwise had no resources or ability to provide for themselves were sent to the County Home to live. In return, they were expected to help pay their way by working the County Home’s considerable farmland. The County Home is still in place today, although modern human services programs (and modern agricultural practices) mean that the farmland doesn’t produce any significant funding for the residents. Eager to provide housing for the elderly using a 21st century model rather than a 19th century one, the commissioners of Washington County offered to lease a large part of the County Home’s fields to Buckeye Hills Support Services (a non-profit affiliate of BHRC) at a nominal cost for 55 years if they could develop it for senior housing. 

Once the land was sited, the team identified other tools for reducing the cost of the project. The specific land offered for the senior housing was located in a qualified census tract (QCT). this is a census tracts that has a special need for affordable housing; as such, OHFA gives it an automatic 30% bonus in the tax credit allocation. Capitalizing on this additional tax credit allocation allows us to further reduce project costs and increase benefits for our community. 

Once the project had a site, the Community Building Partners team started evaluating the the most cost-effective model for high-quality, attractive construction. Because of the space available, there was no need to build a multi-story elevator building–we  could spread the apartments out and still provide residents with plenty of room outdoors. We decided on 64 units in ranch-style duplexes, all facing a common road loop. With this design residents and visitors have easy access to their cars, and have individual front porches encouraging neighborly socializing . to socialize on as well. Working with Unibilt, a leading manufacturer of modular housing, we optimized the floorplan of the duplexes to use mass-produced, inexpensively built, high-quality modules. Doing so not only kept construction costs down, but also allows for construction to happen quickly, which increases the sustainability of the construction and reduces the amount of interest on the construction loan. (This attractive duplex design is so versatile that it could easily be used in other cities around the state for more affordable senior housing!)

To increase curb appeal, the site has an attractive landscaping plan and a design palette that fits together while still providing variety, so our streetscape is easily integrated into surrounding neighborhoods. We made sure the color of  buildings would vary, as well as the porch designs, to avoid monotony. We also gave the buildings some curb appeal by varying the color of the siding from building to building, as well as adding inexpensive porches.

The keys to our model were:

  • We looked to find land in a QCT.
  • We worked with our local partners to find land at a below-market price.
  • We worked with our architects and builders to design quality, attractive, cost-effective homes for the site.

With low construction expenses and a low permanent mortgage, we then looked at how savings from the cost of operations could translate into benefits for our residents and community. That’s for the next post.

About Laura Recchie

Laura Recchie is Chief Operating Officer. She is also the founder of Root + Branch, Inc.