Everything we see in this world today is the fruits of someone’s labor–someone who came before us and made a way. Seeing as today’s elderly generation were a part of the fabric of this city, it only seems right to pay them back in any small manner, and 223 residents of a local senior living community now have a facility best-suited for their needs.
On Thursday, March 23, Mayor Sylvester Turner joined the Heights community as the Houston Heights Tower celebrated completion of a $12 million facelift and renovation two years in the making in the heart of the Heights at 330 W. 19th Street.
“Forty years went by, and the building needed work,” said Tom Forrester Lord, president of the Housing Corporation of Greater Houston, of the midrise built in 1975. “We were seeing pipes leak and the roof leak, and we didn’t really have the money we needed if we wanted to fix it up and continue serving seniors for another 40 years.”
Enter the folks with the city of Houston. When Lord first approached the Housing Department, he simply requested $2 million to fix the plumbing—but the follow-up made his jaw drop.
“The head of the department said ‘why don’t you just fix it all?’” he said. The offer was one he wasted no time in accepting.
Hence, the city dug into its pockets and funded $10 million of the $12 million cost, with Community Bank chipping in the final $2 million to help keep the vision of four area churches (Heights Presbyterian, St. Andrew’s Episcopal, Heights Christian Church and All Saints Catholic) alive and well.
“Everything you see here is brand new, so it will all be around here to serve the community for at least another 40 years,” Lord said.
Refurbishment on the venue included installing all-new plumbing, transforming the former cafeteria into a 2,000square-foot community room for activities, resurfacing and painting the exterior, adding four feet of insulation and a computer room, and giving all apartments an interior facelift. While the $10 million required of the city is no small chunk of change, Mayor Sylvester Turner believes the cost to be well worth the investment.
“In building complete communities in Houston, we must consider the needs of our older adults and we must support development which provides for those in need, and that is why we support the Housing Corporation of Greater Houston and the Houston Heights Tower,” he said. “It sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but it is an investment in our seniors, those who have paved the way and those who have made it possible to be where we are today.”
Not too far or close—just right
As residents of the independent living facility have come and gone, Lord said one thing has remained the same through all its days, and remains a vital part of the facility’s service to the community’s older population.
“It’s the perfect place for seniors,” he said, noting the proximity and convenience of just about any community amenity. “They can walk to the grocery store, drug store, doctors and more. It’s just a great place to be if you’re a senior. We’re important to this neighborhood.”
For evidence, look no further than Frances Smerinksy, 87, who has resided inside Houston Heights Tower since 1999. Upon moving into the eight-story tower, Smerinsky even sold her car, saying she wouldn’t need it — and hasn’t missed a beat.
“I don’t need a car here. I’m close to everything,” she said. “A grocery store, cleaners, bank and doctor are either within walking distance or I take a bus.”
Addressing a growing need
Overall, America is aging. All baby boomers will be 65 by 2029, and will make up 20 percent of Harris county’s population by that time. Nearly 655,000 residents age 60 and older live in Harris County according to Turner, and as this number grows, many will unfortunately be at the lowest income level. As such, Turner said how the community responds – through gestures such as the Heights Tower renovation – will determine its legacy.
“How we treat those in the older days of their lives will determine what type of city we will be. Our goal is to not only improve the quality of life for these residents, we also want to continue the growth and revitalization that have taken place in this community,” he said. “This demonstrates Houston’s commitment to provide quality, affordable homes in neighborhoods throughout our city, and it’s important we protect the homes and housing options for our older adults and those with low incomes.”