By Rebecca Rose
Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS — Seniors in Harker Heights and Killeen may soon have another option when it comes to housing.

Versa Development plans to build a 96-unit senior housing community, located at Old Nolanville and Nola Ruth roads in Harker Heights. The 7-acre complex would also feature a café, arts and crafts center, barbershop, library and more.

The units would be one- or two-bedroom rentals, averaging approximately 822 square feet, at an estimated cost of $1.20 per square foot.

What makes the units unique is that Versa plans to market the property as an independent living community, open only to seniors 55 and older who do not require in-home assistance or nursing care.

Gary Dillard is a development manager for Versa. He spoke at a Harker Heights City Council workshop to explain what the company envisioned for the new project.

Versa acquired the property three years ago and planned to build an integrated commercial and residential area on the nearly 10-acres of land.

“In 2008, things changed on our side,” Dillard said. The collapse of the housing market dramatically shifted the overall vision and scope of the project as financiers backed off.

“To make the property viable, we looked at other scenarios that fit,” he said.

Due to neighborhood concerns about traffic, Versa ruled out leasing the space to a large commercial retailer.

Versa had success with similar senior housing projects in Houston and Fort Worth. Realizing there were no similar independent living facilities in the Killeen area, Versa changed its vision from single-family homes to senior housing.

Needs change

As baby boomers age, demand for suitable housing increases, Dillard said.

“Overall, there’s been a huge change in just how many seniors there are,” he said. “A lot more (are) living longer; a lot more are healthy. There’s not a lot out there specifically for seniors that are healthy and don’t need full-time care.”

Debbie Edwards is manager of the Lions Club Park Senior Center in Killeen. She said she also sees a void in the kind of housing seniors need.

“I feel there’s a shortage of senior housing in the community,” Edwards said. “There’s a big need.”

Many people in the military are bringing their aging parents or grandparents with them to the area to help them manage while spouses are away on deployments, Edwards said.

“But they don’t want to live with their children, they want their independence,” she said. “They want a secure place close to their family, and close to amenities.”

More and more seniors are entering the rental market, but many of them do not want to be in a traditional rental complex, Dillard said.

“It’s a totally different lifestyle. There’s lots of things about apartments that don’t appeal to seniors,” he said. “When you’re a senior, you don’t want to live next to a 24-year-old, who’s playing music until 2 a.m.”

“Seniors like a peaceful, secure, affordable place to live,” Edwards said. “At this stage, they’ve raised their families. They want to relax when they come home.”

More demand

The demand for senior living housing is constantly growing, Hegerty said. “If you have the resources, now is a good time to be building.”

Senior housing isn’t recession proof, but it is more recession resistant, he said.

“The fundamentals are pretty good for people,” Hegerty said. “There’s always a demand. People will somehow come up with resources to be able to afford this housing.”

Edwards said if she was looking for housing in the area, an independent living facility would appeal to her.

“I definitely would look into it,” she said.

“When you’re young, you want a big house,” she said. “As you get older, you realize you don’t need a lot of things. You want less to maintain, so you start to downsize. One bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom, a place to socialize. That’s perfect.”

Versa will next have to go before the Planning and Zoning Committee to review final specifications of the proposal before making a final presentation to the council. Dillard said that was likely to happen in July.