Group saves seniors' apartments

Authority created to start repairing West Routt Housing Development

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— Wednesday night's meeting moved as fast as a rescue mission should.

Hayden attorney Mark Fischer sat at the head of the table and announced the motions that needed to be made to create the West Routt Housing Inc. Within an hour, a board had been nominated, officers elected, money was on its way and the seniors who had been forgotten by the system earlier this year were again under a watchful eye.

The process began last month when tenants of a senior subsidized housing facility, West Routt Housing Development, called Fischer begging for help. Their utilities were about to be shut off.

No one had paid a single bill for the apartments since January.

A visit and a few phone calls revealed to Fischer the seniors were living in unsafe conditions, the property caretakers hadn't been paid in months and there was a long line of maintenance and utility bills waiting to be paid.

Without proper authority, but with no other choice, Fischer made calls to lenders at Rural Development and had the utilities paid.

He then called in a team of community members to become West Routt Housing Inc., a corporation that met for the first time this week to take charge of the neglected facility. West Routt Housing Inc. now includes Lucy Rickman and Melvin Richardson of The Haven, Nancy Muhme, Mike Larson of First National Bank of the Rockies, Gar Williams of Routt Fire and Safety and Patty Bruchez.

Fischer agreed to be president of the new corporation until things are stable. He will then step down.

The whirlwind cleanup came after a several-year saga of deterioration.

Muhme, secretary/treasurer of the new West Routt Housing Inc., said the senior living facility originally came into existence in 1970 under the direction of a Hayden bank president and several reputable business owners. They borrowed money from an organization now known as Rural Development to slowly build 13 subsidized, independent living apartments for seniors.

More than a decade later, most of the board members were dead, but the project they started was still running.

Two years ago, arguments broke out between management and Rural Economic Community Development in Greeley. Under the advice of their lawyer, the entire board stepped down.

Responsibility for the facility was passed to a management company in Wyoming.

Last January, that company faded quietly out of the picture, leaving several seniors to fend for themselves.

At Wednesday night's meeting, caretaker Lynn Salazar presented a two-page list of repairs that need to be made to the apartments, including fixing unsafe ramps, cracked cement and replacing a hot water heater that is so rusted the water comes out orange.

"In the beginning there's going to be a lot of work," Rickman said. "We will need bids for repairs and renovations."

For no more than six months, West Routt Rural Health Council Inc. will manage the facility, providing 24-hour assistance through The Haven.

Sam Mitchell of Rural Development suggested the facility might need to raise rents to afford all the repairs and management fees that are needed. The raise would not affect tenants, only the amount subsidized by the government.

Currently, rents are set at $325 for a one-bedroom apartment and $360 for two bedrooms. Rent payments are set on a sliding scale based on income and medical bills.

Most of the people who live there qualify for a reduced rent.

The facility currently has two vacant units, both upstairs.

West Routt Housing Inc. was started this week with a little less than $10,000 in the bank and a long list of bills.

"This project has been neglected far too long," Fischer said.

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