The Mustard Seed has sprouted

Ted Olinger
Affordable senior housing. Aging in place. Bracing for the "silver tsunami." No, it's not Bernie Sanders talking.
It's Edie Morgan, founder and executive director of the The Mustard Seed Project (TMSP). Morgan founded TMSP 10 years ago with a small group of volunteers dedicated to assisting local elderly residents with daily chores. Under her leadership it has evolved into a burgeoning nonprofit with plans to build the only affordable senior housing on the Key Peninsula. For years their hope has been to build a campus for people to "age in place," as Morgan puts it, in the community of their choice, with easy access to what that community offers. Their vision calls for eight one-bedroom and two two-bedroom cottages, and three 10-bedroom assisted living homes designed to accommodate residents for the rest of their lives, whatever turns those lives may take. "That includes memory care," said Morgan, referring to residents who may develop dementia, along with whatever other services are needed as a resident ages. At a public meeting March 17 at the Key Center library, Morgan announced to a capacity crowd that TMSP has made an offer on a five-acre parcel of land across from the old Roadhouse restaurant on 154th Avenue in Key Center, and has verbal agreements to purchase two adjacent 1.5-acre parcels. The envisaged campus there will include gardens, walking paths, common areas and a cafe for community gatherings and socializing and will employ approximately 26 staff, not to mention local vendors and tradespeople for construction and maintenance. Morgan has been looking for the right place for some time. "We had thought that zoning was perhaps more flexible than it is," Morgan said, listing issues from septic to rural zoning requirements. "We've learned a lot about wetlands," she said. TMSP is considering a partnership with the Greenhouse Project, a new model of elder care that is replacing the standard nursing home design on the East Coast. Single buildings have 10-12 bedrooms around a central common area and kitchen to encourage connection with housemates and participation in daily activities. Sharon Nielson of the Nielson Group is coordinating financing for the building project. "We've already secured a $150,000 pre-development loan," she said. "We'll need to raise about 3 million in our capital campaign, together with loans from the USDA and private banks." The USDA offers financing for assisted living projects in rural areas with a rare 100 percent loan-to-value ratio, she said. Nielson put the total cost of the project at "around $8 million." The price to live there has not been finalized and will change as a resident's needs change, but she estimated a rate no higher than competing markets, with some offset by Medicaid. If all goes according to plan, they should be ready to buy the first piece of land they need by mid-April. Construction should take about 18 months and the campus could be ready to open in 2019. "I've been working on this already for 10 years. By the time it's open I'll be ready to move in," said Morgan. For more information, contact