Community for deaf seniors, 20 years in making, progresses - East Valley Tribune: Tempe

Community for deaf seniors, 20 years in making, progresses

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Posted: Thursday, June 17, 2010 3:41 pm | Updated: 10:22 pm, Mon Jun 21, 2010.

Arizona’s first community for deaf and hard-of-hearing seniors is rising from the ground in Tempe after two decades of work by deaf activists.

The Apache ASL Trails, located at 2428 E. Apache Blvd., is expected to draw residents from across the state and perhaps even the nation. The 75-unit complex is meant to bring together those who are sometimes isolated because they communicate primarily through American Sign Language.

The developer, Wisconsin-based Cardinal Capitol Management, found it could attract residents from great distances when it opened a similar complex in its home state, said Cardinal president Erich Schwenker.

“You don’t hear too many people moving from Florida to Wisconsin to retire, but when we built our first project in Wisconsin, we had a few people move from Florida,” Schwenker said. “The issue of being able to go home at night and use your primary language comfortably, that’s a big issue with people.”

The Tempe complex was designed with special features for the deaf, including wide hallways so people have room to communicate with their hands. Also, high-contrast colors make it easier for others to see hand movements.

Units feature videophones and extra insulation to prevent noise from traveling, as some residents will have televisions blasting at high volumes. The features added about 10 percent to the project’s cost.

The project was proposed in 2007, and construction was to begin in the fall of 2008. Just weeks before work was to start, the financing fell through as the economy was rapidly deteriorating. The project remains the same, though costs have escalated from $12.5 million to $16 million.

The project was relatively small for Tempe when it was proposed, as 30-story towers were on the drawing boards that would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Now, the Apache ASL Trails is one of the biggest construction projects in Tempe.

The city’s central location and the adjacent Metro light-rail line made it attractive to investors, Schwenker said.

“It’s an important building in Arizona, but it was hard for national investors to get comfortable investing again in Arizona,” Schwenker said. “This is a sign that they are starting to get comfortable again.”

The rail line was important in choosing the location, he said, because deaf people tend to give up driving earlier than the general population.

“It’s very much important for them to get engaged with the larger community, and the light rail allows that,” said Judy Leiterman, a Cardinal asset manager.

Work began earlier this month. It should be ready for residents by the summer of 2011.

The project will offer reduced rents to low-income residents, and is financed partially through tax credits issued by the Arizona Department of Housing. It also got a $150,000 grant from the Arizona Community Foundation and $2.5 million in federal funds.

Fewer than 20 similar deaf housing projects exist around the nation, but interest in them has been growing in recent years, Schwenker said. Arizona’s deaf community has pushed for this idea for 20 years, and 70 applications have already been received for the site, he said. Cardinal plans to eventually build a co-op for deaf residents on adjacent land.

Apache ASL Trails is also open to those who are deaf and blind. The Arizona Community Foundation awarded its grant to the project in part because Arizona’s senior population is growing so rapidly, said Jacky Alling, the organization’s vice president of programming. Also, it was encouraged by the success of the Wisconsin facility and knowing it has a waiting list.

“That gave us a sense that it’s needed in our community,” Alling said.

The development’s staff will be proficient in sign language. The project includes space for classes, social services and a community room where residents can gather.

“Deaf folks tend to be very social folks and they like being with other people,” Schwenker said.

Applications for the project are available at www.cardinalcapital.us.

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