Westerly Creek development adds much-needed affordable housing options for area seniors

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AURORA | The old two-story walkups of Aurora’s Buckingham Gardens public housing projects are long gone.

In their place sit new, energy-efficient apartments that barely hint at the fact that they’re low-income housing.

“It’s definitely night and day,” Aurora Housing Authority Executive Director Craig Maraschky said of the difference between those tattered old buildings and the new — and growing — Village at Westerly Creek.

Crews are set to break ground next month on the third and final phase of the Westerly Creek project, according to Maraschky.

When they finish work around summer 2018, Maraschky said, the entire $52-million development will have about 200 units. That includes 120 built for seniors in the first phases of the project and another 78 in this last phase, which includes units for families as well as seniors.

The project was a massive one, he said, but it required the city to completely redesign much of the infrastructure that had been used for the old housing project.

“We essentially redeveloped the whole site,” he said.

The project is one of the few affordable-housing options — especially for seniors — in a metro area that has seen ballooning home prices and rents in the past decade.

Carol Lo Cicero, 68, moved into her home at Westerly Creek about a year ago.

The retired school bus driver from Long Island said the location — not far from The Gardens on Havana at East Mississippi Avenue and South Havana Street — is ideal.

“I can drive anywhere I want,” she said.

Plus, there’s always something to do, whether it’s bingo or other fun activities with her fellow residents.

“There’s a lot of social activities there,” she said.

The redevelopment is part of a larger building boom near Mississippi and Havana, which was once home to Buckingham Square Mall.

The old mall is gone, replaced by the sprawling Gardens on Havana shopping district. And the old City Hall to the south has also been redeveloped — again, into senior apartments.

Still, the residential piece of the area’s redevelopment moved slower than local officials had originally hoped.

The economic crash in 2008 meant the Gardens scrapped the residential-over-retail project that had been planned, and the apartments east of the development weren’t complete until a few years after initially slated.

At this point, Westerly is far from the only new development in the neighborhood. Veridian Apartments are also up and running to the east of Gardens.

Maraschky said he is hopeful the city will be able to launch another affordable housing development near East 30th Avenue and Peoria Street.

That five-acre site isn’t far from a new light rail stop, he said, and if the city lands some tax credits needed to help fund it, could include 78 units in just the first phase.

The city hopes to hear whether they received those tax cuts in the next 90 days or so, Maraschky added.

Landing those tax credits and other funding for such projects is always very competitive, he said, because so many cities are trying to add more affordable housing in the midst of a glut of new residents pouring in throughout the state.

“Unfortunately they are expensive to develop and the money to develop them is a precious resource,” he said.