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Market study finds demand for assisted living in Libby

by Derrick Perkins Western News
| January 21, 2020 10:33 AM

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Asa Wood Elementary (Paul Sievers/The Western News)

The Libby area is ripe for another assisted living facility, according to a market study conducted after a potential buyer for the shuttered Asa Wood Elementary School approached local officials with a plan to repurpose the property.

The report, prepared by Kansas-based Novogradac and Co., found that demand for assisted living units targeted toward residents age 65 and up likely will rise in the coming years. The study, partially funded through city coffers, was released earlier this month.

The senior population within the community is expected to grow at a more rapid rate than other age groups through 2024, according to the report. And a good chunk of those senior households earn more than $50,000 annually, the authors noted.

Simultaneously, median incomes in the region are expected to increase, according to the study.

“All of these demographic trends are positive indicators of demand for senior market rate rental housing within the area,” the report concluded.

Libby City Council voted to approve funding for the market research after learning of the possible sale of the elementary school in early November. Tina Oliphant, executive director of the Kootenai River Development Council, successfully lobbied the body to match the economic group’s $2,375 payment for the project.

The city’s share of the cost came from Libby’s economic development fund.

The company interested in redeveloping the property, American Covenant Senior Housing Foundation, paid the remaining $4,750 plus any additional travel costs incurred. The remaining partner in the endeavor, the Libby School District, paid for a $9,000 assessment of the property ahead of a potential sale.

Were the sale to go ahead, the school district would take the lead in negotiations, officials said.

The report operates under the assumption that American Covenant Senior Housing Foundation would raze the existing school building. The authors deemed the structure free of hazards, but added a disclaimer in the report noting that they “are not experts” and were not provided with an environmental assessment.

The EPA initially listed the school as asbestos-free. But officials later found the toxic substance in the building and the federal agency launched an effort to remove it after no small amount of controversy.

For the purposes of the study, researchers assumed the facility would include 50 units. They foresee 30 studio units rented at between $3,450 and $3,500. The remaining 20 units would constitute one-bedroom units running between $4,300 and $4,450 a month.

The location puts residents in a mixed-use neighborhood in northern Libby with easy access to the city’s downtown district.

“Surrounding improvements are in generally average to good condition overall,” the authors wrote. “In addition, the [facility] will create a positive impact upon the neighborhood by providing a newly constructed, senior rental housing development in excellent condition. Further, it should be noted the [facility] will be a complementary use to [its] surrounding land uses.”

While the study notes that Lincoln County lacks fixed bus routes, it does offer a transit service on request.

The researchers saw only one potential competitor for the facility in the immediate area, with the remaining situated in Bonners Ferry, Sandpoint and Kalispell.

To compete, a Libby facility likely would need to offer rooms that include rails and bars, pull cords, a basic cable/Internet package, central heating and air conditioning, but not a kitchen, according to the study. Common areas in the facility would include a community room, central laundry, and recreation and picnic areas.

The facility ought to provide transportation, housekeeping services, a meal service, and daily classes and recreational activities like games, arts and crafts, exercise classes and outdoor entertainment, according to the study.