Renovation of Cardinal Ritter units has residents smiling

LISA JOHNSTON | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Construction on a $5 million renovation of two Cardinal Ritter Senior Services affordable housing apartments in Shrewsbury has reached the halfway point.

Cardinal Ritter and residents are pleased with the results so far.

June Mattingly, who has lived at St. Joseph Apartments for four years, used an assortment of adjectives to describe her happiness with her newly renovated unit. "It's the most beautiful place," she said, noting that she spent four months in a temporary unit while hers was being gutted and reworked from an efficiency unit to a one-bedroom unit.

The move "was like clockwork," she said, adding that "it was like the guys knew just where everything went. Not one thing was misplaced."

Mattingly, a member of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Crestwood, said she wasn't surprised because she has felt fortunate to live at the apartments from the beginning. It's a safe place, next to woods, "like being in the country. ... Yet everything is handy, the grocery store is close and the fitness center where I go every morning is in the next block. If you're not happy here, then you can't be happy."

Her renovated place has a big kitchen with a built-in microwave and a bathroom with a walk-in shower.

Bernita Johnson, a resident for 15 years, is looking forward to moving into a new unit. She is looking forward to the new 30-inch stove that can accommodate two cookie sheets.

Johnson moved into St. Joseph soon after her husband died. The decision to come to St. Joseph "was the best thing to happen to me. I made so many friends and still have my old friends. I'm never alone. There's always somebody here to help you."

St. Joseph opened in 1987 and Holy Infant in 1992. Kevin Klingerman, director of housing at Cardinal Ritter, said one reason for the renovation project was that an opportunity existed to refinance at lower rates with federal tax credits for updating the buildings. "We're able to replace windows, kitchen cabinets, hot water heaters and more." The units are being made more accessible and common areas are being updated as well.

The buildings were constructed at a time when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development wanted one-room efficiencies. After 1992, the department realized that was the wrong approach. Rents are set at 30 percent of residents' adjusted income.

By adding on to the buildings, the conversion is possible. "The federal government provided the funding, and we provided the programs and services in ministry," Klingerman said. "This includes all aspects of human need: spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual and social."

Cardinal Ritter's affordable apartments have a chapel or opportunity for worship -- Mass, Bible study, Rosary recitation and ecumenical services. There's a health promotion nurse, wellness activities, group transportation, emergency pull cords monitored 24 hours a day, an "I'm OK" program that provides a check on residents' well-being, newsletter, activities, a service coordinator and much more.

Cardinal Ritter's Cardinal Carberry Campus in Shrewsbury provides a continuum of care for seniors.

The AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust has provided financing for the project in conjunction with the St. Louis Equity Fund. BSI Constructors is the general contractor.

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