Creating Connections With Pocket Neighborhoods at Community Gardens
Opened in October 2018, Community Gardens is a 50-unit affordable senior development built in the pedestrian-focused "pocket neighborhood" style in Springfield, Ohio. A "pocket neighborhood" is a small grouping of units arranged around shared outdoor space within a larger development; the design encourages social interaction and a strong sense of community. Each of Community Gardens’ freestanding rental houses has its own covered front porch and attached garage and was designed for comfortable aging in place. The $10.4 million project, built on a site that was once a hospital, was developed by the Neighborhood Housing Partnership of Greater Springfield (NHP) and the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation.
Community Hospital to Community Gardens
In 2010, two hospitals in Springfield, Community Hospital and Mercy Medical Center, merged to create Community Mercy Health Partners, which launched its Springfield Regional Medical Center in the city’s downtown the following year. Even as the new hospital brought investment to Springfield’s center, the nearly seven acres of vacant land left after the demolition of the 1930s-era Community Hospital buildings in 2013 presented a different opportunity in East Springfield’s Grandview neighborhood. NHP, a local affordable housing nonprofit, partnered with the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, a regional nonprofit developer, to purchase the parcel. The partnership broke ground on the project in August 2017.
The size of the property allowed the developers to build a spacious, low-density development using Seattle architect Ross Chapin’s pocket neighborhood concept. In accordance with this style, Community Gardens’ 50 freestanding, 2-bedroom, ranch-style houses are arranged in clusters of 8 to 12 homes, all facing a shared green space. To further promote social interaction and community building, each unit has a covered front porch, offering a private space that opens into the shared green space. To minimize the presence of cars and foster a sense of security among residents, each house has an attached garage facing the access road, leaving the “pocket” of the neighborhood vehicle-free. The single-story houses are fully accessible with zero steps and a walk-in shower to allow residents to age comfortably in place. “This is a perfect transition for someone leaving their long-term home to a smaller, more accessible space,” explained Tina Koumoutsos, special projects coordinator for NHP. In addition, the development is Enterprise Green Communities certified, and each unit is equipped with ENERGY STAR® appliances.
Eligible tenants of the development are low-income seniors aged 55 and older. Of the 50 total units, 30 are open to tenants earning up to 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), 12 are available for tenants earning up to 50 percent of AMI, and 8 are reserved for tenants earning 30 percent of AMI or less. Demonstrating the considerable need for this kind of housing in Springfield, Community Gardens received more than 500 applications in its first few weeks after opening.
The development’s primary amenities are in its outdoor spaces. In addition to acres of interconnected walking trails, Community Gardens has ample shared green space, a gazebo, and a playground. “You might find it a little odd to include a playground in a senior housing development,” remarked Koumoutsos, “but we included it in order to accommodate grandchildren and other visitors so that they can enjoy the outdoors with residents.” This emphasis on open space and outdoor recreation also helps foster connections among neighbors, staving off the isolation and loneliness that sometimes accompany aging. Although the developers originally planned to include an onsite health clinic, they were unable to secure a hospital partnership for this purpose. Instead, NHP partnered with United Senior Services to engage a nurse who visits monthly and helps residents monitor chronic health conditions.
Moving to the Next Phase
The pocket neighborhood design did incur a greater development cost per square foot than a denser development would, said Koumoutsos, but NHP finds this spacious, accessible, community-promoting format ideal for seniors, making the tradeoff worthwhile. The $10.4 million project was financed primarily using equity from the sale of low-income housing tax credits, which accounted for $9 million of the total cost. The second-largest contribution came from the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, which deferred $815,572 of the developer fee. The Federal Home Loan Bank issued $423,075 in Affordable Housing Program grant funds, and the city of Springfield provided $220,908 in federal HOME funds. Notably, Community Gardens represents NHP’s first foray into tax-credit development.
As of May 2020, Community Gardens is fully occupied with a substantial waitlist. NHP has planned a second phase for the development that will improve its economic efficiency, add amenities for residents, and address some of this significant local demand. In this second phase, NHP and Buckeye Community Hope Foundation will build 60 one-bedroom units and add a community building with a fitness room and resident gathering space.
Interview with Tina Koumoutsos, special projects coordinator for the Neighborhood Housing Partnership of Greater Springfield, 4 May 2020.×
Interview with Tina Koumoutsos, special projects coordinator for the Neighborhood Housing Partnership of Greater Springfield, 4 May 2020; Neighborhood Partnership of Greater Springfield. n.d. “About.” Accessed 30 April 2020; Buckeye Community Hope Foundation. n.d. “About Buckeye Community Hope Foundation.” Accessed 30 April 2020; Hasan Karim. 2020. “Old Springfield hospital site to get more affordable housing as city faces shortage,” Springfield News-Sun, 26 January. Accessed 30 April 2020; Jessica Heffner. 2013. “Community Hospital demo starts,” Springfield News-Sun, 21 February. Accessed 30 April 2020; Michael Cooper. 2016. "Former Springfield hospital demolished," Dayton Daily News, 27 June. Accessed 15 May 2020. ×
Interview with Tina Koumoutsos, 4 May 2020; Ohio Home Finance Agency. 2016. "The Community Gardens 2016 Low Income Housing Tax Credit Proposal." Accessed 30 April 2020; Neighborhood Partnership of Greater Springfield. n.d. “The Community Gardens Senior Rental Housing.” Accessed 30 April 2020; Jessica Heffner. 2013. “Community Hospital demo starts,” Springfield News-Sun, 21 February. Accessed 30 April 2020. ×
Interview with Tina Koumoutsos, 4 May 2020; Correspondence with Tina Koumoutsos, 6 May 2020; Ohio Home Finance Agency. 2016. "The Community Gardens 2016 Low Income Housing Tax Credit Proposal." Accessed 30 April 2020; Neighborhood Partnership of Greater Springfield. n.d. “The Community Gardens Senior Rental Housing.” Accessed 30 April 2020.×
Interview with Tina Koumoutsos, 4 May 2020; Ohio Housing Finance Agency. n.d. "Featured Property: The Community Gardens." Accessed 30 April 2020.×
Interview with Tina Koumoutsos, 4 May 2020; Buckeye Community Hope Foundation. 2019. "Rental Development Experience of Buckeye Community Hope Foundation 11.19.19." Accessed 30 April 2020.×
Interview with Tina Koumoutsos, 4 May 2020.×