Senior housing

WASILLA — Seventy-eight senior housing units have been added to Wasilla to help fill the need for one of the fastest growing senior populations in the country.

Cameron Johnson of H5 construction initially intended to develop the project as housing for young professionals, but saw the need for senior housing. Phase one was completed earlier this year with 42 units available right now. The second phase is scheduled to have seniors move in starting next week and has 36 units. Johnson and his small army of people who helped him make his dream a reality cut the ribbon on Vista Rose senior apartments on Wednesday.

The property just up Lucille Street from downtown Wasilla features not only the 78 housing units that were specially designed for seniors, but a dog park and a central building with a library, exercise center, and computer room.

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“This just gives us one more niche why people want to live in Wasilla. We’ve got good schools, a good police department, good shopping and senior housing is just another piece of the pie on why you would want to stay in this community,” Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle said. “This is about us taking care of our own people.”

According to a study done in 2016, 16 Alaskans turn 60 every day. In the Mat-Su Valley, three Alaskans turn 60 every day. Where seniors make up 18 percent of the population in much of the country, the number in the Valley is 41 percent. By 2020, 14,000 seniors will live in the Valley, and by 2030, 21,000 seniors will live in the Valley.

Johnson and H5 construction have a variety of projects being developed across the state. Johnson has 14 years of experience building senior housing in California, but this was his first project in Wasilla.

“There isn’t a project that I’m more proud of and more happy to see come together than the Vista Rose Senior apartments. Wasilla’s my hometown,” said Johnson.

Johnson is also currently developing another affordable senior housing project in Palmer. Whispering Winds near the MTA Events Center is planned to open in the fall of 2019 with 42 units for seniors.

“We’re going to continue to see more housing filled in this area in this part of the state to make sure we do the best we can to keep up with our needs,” CEO of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation Bryan Butcher said at the ribbon cutting.

The apartments specially designed for seniors are fully accessible for those in wheelchairs and even hearing and sight impaired seniors. The doors are wider than normal to fit wheelchairs through. Countertops are low enough to be reached from a wheelchair, and each bathtub has bars to hold on to. Johnson said that he and his crew are improving as they continue to build more affordable housing for seniors.

“We’re constantly striving to improve. We made major improvements from phase one to phase two. Our projects are going to continue to get better,” Johnson said.

Cottle said that there are now about 300 senior housing units inside the city of Wasilla, and he sees a need for nearly 150 more in the next few years.

Johnson’s major project inside the city of Wasilla, The Shoppes at Sun Mountain, got a commitment from their first tenant. Planet Fitness will break ground on a 25,000-square-foot facility in October set to open in the fall of 2019. Johnson is in negotiations with major national chains and expects agreements to come in the next month as well.

“Once you get to be 65 and older, why would we want you to leave town? We want you to stay in town. You’ve been a good citizen, why not stay?” Cottle said.

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