Housing Profiles

VNA Senior Living Community

Somerville, Massachusetts

John Morrison


The VNA Senior Living Community provides 99 one-bedroom, handicapped apartments for residents 50 years of age or older who need assistance with at least two activities of daily living. Nurses are available during the day and evening, and nurse aides and resident-care attendants are on staff 24 hours a day. The complex includes a country store, beauty salon, library, community rooms, and a wellness center.

Financing for the development included a $300,000 grant and a $750,000 subsidized advance from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston's (the Bank) Affordable Housing Program through member Wainwright Bank & Trust Company.

Built on the site of an abandoned public school, the complex includes 72 affordable apartments serving seniors at or below 60 percent of area median income and 27 market-rate units.

In this FHLB Boston multimedia profile, take video tours of the site and learn how the VNA is collaborating with the Somerville Housing Authority to create the nation's first continuing-care retirement community for low- and moderate-income seniors and disabled people.

(Photo left: John Morrison, a resident of the VNA Senior Living Community.)


The Developer

Linda Cornell is president and chief executive officer of the Visiting Nurse Association  of Eastern Massachusetts (VNA), the developer of the VNA Senior Living Community.

The VNA Senior Living Community provides housing for seniors who need assistance with at least two activities of daily living (for example, dressing, grooming, bathing, ambulating, and taking medication). Medication mismanagement is probably one of the biggest causes of people ending up in nursing homes.

This is the second building developed by the VNA to receive an award from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston’s Affordable Housing Program (AHP).

The VNA Senior Living Community story really begins with our first assisted living project — the Visiting Nurse Foundation Assisted Living Residence on Lowell Street in Somerville,

(Photo right: View of the VNA Senior Living Community.)


Massachusetts (the recipient of a $250,000 grant and $1.25 million subsidized advance in the 1997 AHP).

The VNA mission is to keep people at home or in the community for as long as humanely possible. In the 1980s, there was a big federal health-care-reform effort — at the time called Medicare reform — that led to dramatic, if not draconian, cutbacks in funding for homecare. Thousands of the people managed at home by the VNA had to go into nursing homes, simply because the association wasn’t being reimbursed any longer to take care of them.

When we saw our clients ending up in nursing homes and didn’t think they needed to be there, we started to investigate what we could do about it. We started looking into assisted-living facilities. In the late 1980s, early 1990s, these facilities were sprouting up everywhere. We started to ask the question: How could our clients afford to be in one of these facilities? These were people who had worked all of their lives and were probably living on Social Security and perhaps a small pension. Without our help, they were destined to live out the rest of their lives in a nursing home. They needed help but they could not afford the available

(Photo right: The dining hall at the VNA Senior Living Community.)



assisted-living facilities. We found that the facilities being built were for people that could afford to pay $5,000 to $7,000 a month, which certainly wasn’t the population that we were serving. Most of our patients had incomes of less than $10,000 a year.

We started to think about how we could create an affordable assisted living facility.
The most important thing for me was to build housing that I would be delighted to have my own mother live in. The board of directors and I took a leap and began talking with the City of Somerville — with then-Mayor Michael Capuano (who is now our congressman) — and the state to see what was possible.

The Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston was one of the first lenders to step forward and support our first project. We had never done this before, so the Bank took a chance on us. The VNA is not a real estate developer. The AHP grant became the seed money to help us create the first affordable assisted living facility almost exclusively for extremely low-income people. In fact, 90 percent of the residents at our first VNA assisted living facility — which opened in 2000 — have incomes of far less than $10,000 a year. I think our greatest accomplishment is that we were able to rescue over 100 people directly out of nursing homes and thereby save the government over $30,000 a year per person. The facility also created

(Photo right: Resident John Morrison and VNA President and CEO Linda Cornell.)


a home for over 50 people that were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. We became the first assisted living facility in the country owned and operated by the VNA. The first building was filled within six months and we have maintained that status for the last 10 years. We couldn’t have built the first building without support from the mayor, the governor’s office, and our delegation in Washington. They all knew there was a huge need for this kind of housing. The VNA has a reputation for being innovative and addressing unmet needs — for being a first responder in the community — so they knew we could do this. The universal response to our first building was: Wow, it’s so beautiful. Our response was: Just because you are low-income doesn’t mean you should live in substandard housing.

The New Project
The Somerville Housing Authority approached us about five years ago to take this concept one step further and redevelop the site of a vacant, former school (the Conwell Elementary School), which was also a brownfield site because of a huge oil tank in the building. Phase two of the project includes the redevelopment by the housing authority of a decrepit senior housing complex adjacent to the school site. The senior complex, which had been built in the 1940s, was very tiny and had no elevator or handicapped accessibility. Phase three of the project will be the redevelopment of a historic water building on a nearby site.

(Photo right: One of the building's many community rooms.)


A bridge will connect the assisted-living facility and the independent senior site, giving residents on the independent senior side easy access to VNA services on the assisted-living side. In the for-profit world this is called a continuing-care retirement community. Once the independent site is completed, we will have the nation’s first continuing-care retirement community for low- and moderate-income seniors and disabled people. With the help of the VNA, residents of the independent site will be able to stay in their own apartments for as long as they can manage. Visiting nurses will be able to cross the bridge to provide residents with services in their home.

A Range of Services
The VNA building has all the amenities of assisted living, including a full-service dining room, a wellness center, neighborhood pharmacy deliveries, and physician offices on the premises. We also have rehabilitation services through the VNA or local providers. The complex has a hairdressing salon and a convenience store. It’s going to be one-stop shopping for seniors who need a little extra help, including people with chronic illnesses like Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, heart attack, or other physical or mental disabilities. We also set aside 10 apartments for people with mental retardation or other developmental disabilities.

(Photo right: The library.)


The city of Somerville envisions the completed project serving as the gateway to West Somerville. We are attracting a people who have no options in neighboring towns. Many have family members here or had lived here before. The VNA Senior Living Community opened in April. Financing included $7 million in Low Income Housing Tax Credits and $4.6 million in Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 202 funding. There has been only one other mixed-financed senior building like this one in the country. Linking HUD 202 money to Low Income Housing Tax Credits to build assisted living had never really been done before. We have been selected as one of two HUD 2002 properties to represent the Northeast region at the HUD 202 anniversary in Washington in September.

Modular Construction
In 2000 we built the first all-modular building. We were probably the first successful large-scale modular construction project in Massachusetts. There had been others, but for various reasons most had been failures. We believed in the modular process and engaged a company from Montreal. Because the company builds to Canadian standards, the building envelope had very high insulation standards. We also used modular construction in the second building. The company completed its work way ahead of schedule. If I called them today about a problem with the first building, they would come here and fix it.

(Photo right: The complex has a convenience store for residents.)


Video Tour

Take a video tour of the VNA Senior Living Community with Linda Cornell, the VNA's president and CEO, and Toby Watterson, the complex's general manager.

Video: Click on the Start link at the right to tour the VNA Senior Living Community >>

(Photo right: Linda Cornell in the dining hall of the VNA Senior Living Community.)



The Numbers

As of January 15, 2009

Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston Affordable Housing Program Direct Subsidy
Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston Affordable Housing Program Subsidized Advance
HUD202 Capital Advance
NEF Tax Credit Equity
Sponsor Loan
Deferred Developer Fee
Wainwright Bank Permanent Mortgage
Other Funding
Total Sources




Financing Expenses
Developer's Fees
Legal Fees
Other Soft Costs
Total Uses


The Member

Norah Bloch is community development lender at member Wainwright Bank & Trust Company.

The VNA Senior Living Community is the second assisted living facility developed by the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) financed by Wainwright Bank & Trust Company. We have consistently been impressed with the quality of VNA’s work, its ability to serve clients at the lowest possible price, the high degree of professionalism shown by its staff, and Linda Cornell and her team’s ability to handle the project’s complex financing structure. I would be surprised if a private developer could handle this project as well as Linda did.

Wainwright Bank is a $1 billion, publicly traded commercial bank with headquarters in Boston.  We have often been referred to as an institution with two bottom lines.  Our social-justice platform — the bank's second bottom line — is fueled by the business platform, and our social justice initiatives, in turn, helps fuel our business. The two platforms are mutually supportive. Through a combination of lending policies and leadership in many social issues, Wainwright has developed a social agenda to guide its work. Our community-development lending business now accounts for over 40 percent of our total commercial lending. We've been able to do this by viewing lending to nonprofits as an opportunity to meet both bottom lines. 

(Photo right: The complex has a deck for residents.)

On the business side, of course, our main priority is to be sure that our loans will be paid back on time.  We have no concerns in this regard with VNA Senior Living Community because the development team did such an excellent job securing subsidies. With this level of support, the property can easily support itself financially. The quality services and housing provided by the new facility to low-income seniors is unparalleled and clearly address social needs that otherwise would not be met.
We have also enjoyed and appreciated partnering with FHLB Boston to support the VNA Senior Living Community and numerous other AHP-funded affordable-housing developments. As an FHLB member, we have worked with many nonprofit sponsors to apply for AHP funding in every round for many, many years.  AHP funding has filled the final gap in numerous vital affordable housing projects, and the technical assistance provided by FHLB staff has been invaluable to us.   

(Photo right: The complex also has a beauty salon.)


The Resident

Seventy-two affordable units at the VNA Senior Living Community will serve seniors at or below 60 percent of area median income.

Video: Click on the Start link to the right to visit residents in their apartments. >>


(Photo right: Maria Moniz, a resident of the VNA Senior Living Community.)


Green Building

Linda Cornell is president and chief executive officer of the Visiting Nurse Association  of Eastern Massachusetts (VNA).

This project is one of the deepest green affordable-housing buildings ever built. We received $500,000 to put solar panels on the roof, and they’re working great.The solar panels will cut our electric bill in half.

We also have a co-generation engine that runs on natural gas to provide less-expensive heating, air conditioning, and hot water. This is the premier piece of our energy efficiency. A co-generator is about the size of a car engine but runs on natural gas. It's cheap but provides low-cost heating, air-conditioning, electricity, and hot water. It’s the little engine that could — and it would if we could get it turned-on. We have been open for six months but the co-generation engine is still not running. The general contractor did not have a clear understanding of its purpose and purchased a piece of equipment that was incompatible with NSTAR standards. We’re working through it and are almost there — so there is hope. We’re all going to have a celebration when the co-generation engine is turned on.

Video: Click on the Start link to the right to tour the building's Green Features >>


Lessening utility costs for an affordable project serving such a low-income population is critical. We had no energy efficiency in the first building. Our utility bills there went from $30,000 to $130,000 a year. We were determined not to let that happen in the second building. Every dollar that goes to a utility company is one less dollar for services. We’re hoping that we will have a near-zero electric bill by the time all of the green components are in-place.

We also have a system in place that uses the building's gutters to collect rainwater, which in turn is used to flush toilets and irrigate the landscaping. Another major green component was use of low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) materials throughout the building. This improves air quality for both residents and employees.

But pushing the envelope to be green isn’t always easy. We were absolutely committed that this was going to be as green a building as we could possibly make, not so much for the sake of being green, but, as I mentioned earlier, to preserve more resources for services. Although we went through months and months of planning charrettes, bids on the job came back $2 million more than we had anticipated. The first thing valued out were the green elements. But what I realized from the first building was that I am the one that writes the


checks. So the VNA said, “Look, if you’re going to be on our team, you need to believe in the green aspect of this building, and you need to cut somewhere else.”  We actually had to replace consultants that didn’t believe in what we were doing. This was our hardest test. I had to get people on board who really believed in this.

I brought in a company called New Ecology, which helps nonprofits and affordable-housing developers build green. Ed Connelly is the founder of New Ecology and a tremendous resource for developers. Ed doesn’t promote himself, but he should. You need an organization like his on your team through the entire construction process. If the architect and the engineers are not coordinating, the result will be an inefficient project.

We met or exceeded many of the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards but did not get certified because we couldn’t afford to go through the certification process. Certification costs from $60,000 to $70,000 and involves hiring a green engineer to commission the building.

(Photo right: The Somerville Housing Authority is building Capen Court Senior Housing adjacent to the VNA housing. A bridge will connect the two facilities.)


Phase Two

FHLB Boston Housing Profiles

August 2009