Blaine seniors question rental rate increase

Residents from the Cloverleaf Courts senior apartment in Blaine packed the community room Tuesday morning to find out why they would be paying 3 percent more for their rooms than they did last year, starting March 3.

Betty Volk looks at the 2013 proposed rental rates chart. Photo by Eric Hagen
Betty Volk looks at the 2013 proposed rental rates chart. Photo by Eric Hagen

One woman who did not want to be named said she got an $18 monthly increase in Social Security and her rent is going up $30 a month, but another resident said that while the 3 percent rental rate increase in 2013 was greater than the 1.7 percent Social Security increase, the city council and staff have a hard job and she appreciated them coming to answer questions.

“I think we all know that if we can’t afford to live here, we can move,” said Shirley Wilcox, chairperson of the Cloverleaf Courts residents board.

The city of Blaine owns two senior apartments — Blaine Courts and Cloverleaf Courts. The Blaine Economic Development Authority (EDA), which comprises all members of the Blaine City Council, unanimously approved a 3 percent rate increase back on Jan. 3.

What this means for a person living in a 728 square-foot, one-bedroom apartment at Blaine Courts is they would pay $656 a month starting in March compared with the $637 a month they paid in 2012.

A resident of Cloverleaf Courts in a 725 square-foot, one-bedroom apartment would pay over $100 more even though the size of these two apartment units were comparable. The 2012 rent for this type of Cloverleaf Courts room was $747. The new 2013 rate starting in March would be $769 a month.

Wilcox said about 70 residents of Cloverleaf Courts signed a petition to ask the Blaine EDA to reconsider the 3 percent increase.

Mayor Tom Ryan said Blaine Courts residents raised concerns about the 3 percent rate increase at a meeting that took place a week prior to the meeting at Cloverleaf Courts, although many fewer people attended that first meeting.

“It isn’t something where we get all together and say, lets hit the senior citizens and try to maybe use that funding for other parts of the general fund of the city of Blaine,” Ryan said. “The funding that is collected here stays here in this environment between Blaine Courts and Cloverleaf Courts.”

Finance Director Joe Huss said the facilities are self-sustaining and not subsidized by the general tax base.

Genevieve Wienmelt has also lived at Cloverleaf Courts since it opened and she believes the rates should be more comparable with Blaine Courts.

According to Huss, Cloverleaf Courts has higher monthly rent payments because it has more amenities, more common spaces and some of the rooms are larger.

City Manager Clark Arneson said the new tables that the Cloverleaf Courts residents were sitting at in the common room were purchased with federal grant dollars and not from their rent payments. The city of Blaine during the summer of 2012 at Cloverleaf Courts also replaced window treatments and counters and cupboards, and made upgrades to electrical, plumbing, flooring and small appliances.

Blaine Courts had its parking lot repaired, a new monument sign, new exterior lights on the building, garages and parking lot and three new garage doors and openers.

A separate project at Blaine Courts that took place not too long ago replaced an elevator. Ryan said the city needs to set aside money for expensive repairs like this or for roof or siding repairs down the line.

“If you were to look at it as owning your own home, if all you paid was the mortgage payment on that and you didn’t put money aside to pay for maintenance or improvements on the home, after a certain number of years, your home would not be worth anything,” Huss said. “It would fall into disrepair.”

Huss and Ryan also said that the council has not always increased the rents when Social Security went up.

According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, the increases in more recent years were 2.7 percent in 2005, 4.1 percent in 2006, 3.3 percent in 2007, 2.3 percent in 2008, 5.8 percent in 2009, no increase in 2010 and 2011 and 3.6 percent in 2012.

Huss said the annual senior apartment building rent increases were 2.5 percent in 2005 and 2006, 2 percent in 2007, 3 percent in 2008 and 2009, no increase in 2010 and 2011 and 2 percent in 2012.

Jerry Schilling said when he and his wife downsized and moved to Cloverleaf Courts 11 years ago, they looked at different senior living facilities and came back to their first choice from the beginning.

“Regardless what everyone else thinks, I’m still happy here,” Schilling said, which drew the only applause of the meeting.

Another resident replied, “It’s a good place to live, but pretty soon people won’t be able to afford to live here.”

The city of Blaine contracts with Avinity to manage the two senior apartments. Barbara Kuhlman, director of operations for Avinity, said Avinity manages two Section 8 federal subsidized housing buildings, but the federal government now has a moratorium on building that type of housing that can offer much lower rental rates.

“You need to do what is best for you, both to meet your financial means and your physical needs,” Kuhlman told the Cloverleaf Courts residents.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]