Senior housing sale discussed

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, July 28, 2021
Hear ye

Dawson Holdings’ Tim Fluetsch addresses concerns about his company’s proposed purchase of the Bicentennial Apartments at a hearing this month in Dillon. M.P. Regan photo

City of Dillon officials heard a lot of questions at a public hearing earlier this month on the possible sale of a local housing facility that provides affordable housing for dozens of seniors.

And then they heard some attempts to address those questions, and the limited context in which the exchange was taking place.

“The subject tonight is the proposed sale of the Bicentennial Apartments and the property tax exception for that said property,” announced Mayor Mike Klakken at the start of the July 7 hearing in Dillon City Council Chambers, a quarter hour prior to the set start time of that evening’s city council meeting.

“We’re just looking for anybody that has any pros or cons or just statements,” added Klakken, who did not hear cons so much as concerns from some attendees, as well as responses attempting to offer reassurances about the pending sale of the not-for-profit, three-story facility just west of the railroad tracks by downtown Dillon that enjoys tax exempt status because it provides affordable rental housing to lower-income tenants, per Montana Code Annotated 15-6-221.

“If you don’t know why these buildings exist, they exist because prior to the building of the Bicentennial, it was what was called the cabbage patch in Dillon—and that was rows of cabins over there across the tracks. And the residents were people who, by and large, they worked on ranches, as sheepherders or ranch workers, and when they were done working that’s the only place where they could live,” explained Marlene Stonelake, of what led to the founding of the Bicentennial Apartments in 1975, a year prior to the bicentennial celebration of the founding of the United States.

“And there was a county health nurse who wanted to make sure that the people she was taking care of had a safe, affordable place to live. So, a group of people came forward to purchase the ground,” continued Stonelake, a longtime member of the Bicentennial Apartment’s board of directors.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure that you will have the building that is much like the one you are living in now,” vowed Stonelake to the Bicentennial’s residents, who, like her, apparently got caught off guard by the announcement of the potential sale of the facility that provides quality, reasonably priced housing for dozens of area seniors through help from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“There are some questions that we have had, and I understand talking to management that it’s going to remain a HUD apartment, which is really, desperately needed in this area,” stated Margaret Valentine, speaking at the hearing on behalf of herself and other residents of the Bicentennial Apartments and their concerns on the proposed sale of it to Dawson Holdings, Inc.

“Our business is buying HUD and USDA properties, and preserving them as affordable housing,” stated Tim Fluetsch, who represented Dawson Holdings, Inc. at the hearing in Dillon.

“We will be signing a regulatory agreement with HUD—it states through the contract for an addition of 20 years,” said Tim Fluetsch of Dawson Holdings, which focuses on “the development and rehabilitation multifamily housing throughout the United States, with a primary focus in California and the Western states,” according to its website.

“And we would be signing basically a deed restriction, a regulatory agreement with the Montana Board of Housing that would also require us to preserve it as affordable housing—and I believe it’s for, I know it’s at least 30 years and it may be 55,” added Fluetsch, the vice president of acquisitions, management and operations for Dawson Holdings, Inc.

“We want to have those restrictions on the property to help preserve it and that actually helps us get favorable financing—both from the state and agencies like Fannie Mae will actually give me a lower interest rate if I do an affordable housing project,” added Fluetsch,

“We’re very excited about the opportunity to buy this property, to preserve it as affordable,” stated Fluetsch, who said Dawson Holdings would do extensive renovations and upgrades on the Bicentennial Apartments.

“Some of the systems are now 50 years old, and they’ve been maintained wonderfully, but we want this to be a property that will be able to be affordable for the next 30-50 years. So, we will be spending money on the heating and cooling systems and those sort of things. Those shouldn’t be too disruptive for the tenants,” said Fluetsch.

“HUD has been increasing the requirements for accessibility; some stuff may need some accessibility modifications in units, but I don’t see anything of concern. We don’t use toxic materials. Frankly, we try not to do things like new carpets and drapes while the tenants are still in the unit,” said Fluetsch, who attempted to address other issues raised by Valentine, on behalf of herself and other Bicentennial Apartments tenants.

“The really big one is, are our utilities going to be covered in the rent? I know that that’s not usual for HUD apartments, but it has been a huge boon to all of us at the apartments,” said Valentine.

“Because if we had to pay utilities on top of our rent, for many of us that means, ‘Do we drop medication or do we pay for rent?’ And at this point we don’t have to make that choice,” stated Valentine.

“Utilities are going to continue to be included in the rent,” promised Fluetsch, who heard about other concerns from Valentine, including pet ownership.

“Many of us who are single, many of us don’t have family close by, and so that one thing that we have is our companion. Many of us have medical conditions or we are depressed or sad, and that pet is the one thing we know is always there—at 3 a.m., 5 a.m. or whatever time is needed, that is our solace,” continued Valentine,

“I long ago learned not to get between one of my residents and her pets. Pets are fine,” smiled Fluetsch.

“The other thing is, most of us, we pay an extra five dollars a month for laundry, and we have laundry rooms on the second and third floor. However, I’ve not been able to ascertain—is that going to remain?” asked Valentine.

“The laundry where everyone pays five dollars a month— that’s a goofy setup. I haven’t seen that anywhere else, but we haven’t thought about changing it because frankly I’d have to hire a company to put in coin machines and I’m not sure that’s going to be worth the trouble,” responded Fluetsch, who replied to another issue raised by Valentine that the cost of parking would not increase for tenants.

Valentine also wondered who would manage the properties on a day-to-day basis if the Bicentennial Apartments get bought by Dawson Holdings, expressing a preference for “someone from around here who understands the people around here.”

“We’re negotiating with a couple of Montana property management companies to provide the onsite management. Preference would be to hire someone who’s in the area, knows the community,” answered Fluetsch.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure that you will have the building that is much like the one you are living in now,” vowed Stonelake.

“It’s been a joy to be a part of this, and I know that I am sad that this might change.”

“As with all good things, a time for change is necessary,” wrote Bicentennial Apartments Board President Jim McIsaac in a letter he submitted for the public hearing.

“After a nationwide marketing effort we have entered into a purchase agreement with Dawson Holdings, Inc (DHI) for the purchase of Bicentennial Apartments. DHI was chosen because of their experience in multi-family housing and an expressed concern for the Bicentennial residents and the Dillon community,” continued McIsaac, a former city councilperson.

“The Bicentennial Board of Directors strongly supports and endorses the approval of the Dawson Holdings purchase,” concluded McIsaac.

“Please know, most of us on the board insisted on when the discussion came up was that whoever bought this building would understand that it is probably a little unique from other parts of the country,” said Stonelake.

“People know each other and we have a unique relationship with our tenants. For all these years they have been more like family to us,” continued Stonelake.

“And we made sure it was excellent for those people who live there, because we believe that is what they deserve,” added Stonelake.

“Is there going to be another meeting for the council to decide on this?” wondered City Councilperson Raymond Graham of the potential sale to Dawson Holdings Inc. of the Bicentennial Apartments.

“There is no council decision here,” replied City Attorney Jim Dolan.

“It’s just simply, council has to hold the public hearing.”