Expansion of independent senior living high-rise will double units

Austin

The Austin Geriatric Center, the nonprofit in charge of the Rebekah Baines Johnson Center, will break ground Tuesday on an expansion plan that will double the number of units and renovate the 16-story building in east Austin.

Many people in Austin are struggling to find a place to live, and for seniors on a fixed-income it can be almost impossible on their own.   

For the past 9 years, Stella Beard saw Austin grow from her 12th-floor apartment window.

“If you have your own home, and like you say the taxes keep going up, you can’t afford to live in it,” said Beard.

She lives and loves the RBJ Center for its communal atmosphere but also because it’s one of the few places people on a fixed income can live, without being priced out.

“More and more seniors are staying more and more active. You don’t want to go to a nursing home,” said Beard.

In the next two years, Stella will be moving into one of the 500 new units but will miss that view she has now.

Rebekah Baines Johnson Center rendering. (Photo via Capital Project Management)

“There needs to be more of them because even though we’re in the autumn years of our life, we still have a lot of life to give,” said Beard.

Those in charge of the project say the building from the ’70s needs an upgrade.

“Unlike a lot of projects that you do. This is a project about people,” said David Stauch, the project manager of the renovation and expansion.

He says it was very difficult to get an affordable housing project of this size started near downtown Austin. City tax dollars, housing tax credits and selling excess green space for private housing units and commercial use all will generate more than $60 million for the project. 

“A lot of people have said, well, why don’t you take these old folks and move them out to Manor or move them somewhere else. They’re actually right here in the middle of town. We’re taking care of them and we’re doubling the affordable housing right here next to downtown,” said Stauch.

One hundred of these new units will be for Section 8 housing. The lion’s share of the remainder will be for seniors making $18,000 to $36,000 a year. There is a waiting list to live at the center.

The project will be completed within two to three years.

A study from the insured retirement institute shows baby boomers aren’t as prepared for retirement as they could be. Only 25 percent are “confident” that their savings will last throughout retirement.

Four in 10 baby boomers plan to withdraw from their 401(k) “as needed” to pay for basic expenses. About half consider their 401(k) to be a major source for retirement income.

Among baby boomers who have saved for retirement, 43 percent have saved $250,000 or more.

Seven in 10 boomers are not prepared for “unplanned expenses” and don’t have $5,000 or less in an emergency fund.

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