A local assisted living home for low-income senior citizens, Culpepper Gardens, is getting a financial boost from Arlington's county government, a move that has some fiscal watchdogs asking questions.
Arlington County's proposed budget for the coming fiscal year includes a $700,000 item to support the assisted living wing of Culpepper Gardens.
The money will also be used to reorganize the assisted living operation after a study conducted by a consulting firm determined the project was losing money. During a drive to raise money, the report also found that Culpepper Gardens lost $138,000 in two years.
"Before the Board votes to throw possibly good taxpayer money after bad, Arlington taxpayers deserve to hear how you and the manager plan to make sure another financial crisis at Culpepper Gardens doesn’t recur," said Tim Wise, a member of the county's Fiscal Affairs Advisory Board and spokesman for the Arlington County Taxpayers Association (ACTA), during the County Board's March 15 meeting. "Somehow, over the past five years, the number of assisted living seniors poor enough to require County subsidies increased to 43, or 46, the number is not clear, and according to last month’s report of the consultant hired by the county, the facility was close to bankruptcy, and consequently, of going out of business."
But according to County Board Chairman Jay Fisette — who also serves on the board at Culpepper Gardens — the facility is the only one like it for low-income seniors in Arlington County. Supporting its mission, he said, is vital.
"The important piece is that Culpepper Gardens is an extremely important resource for seniors with little income," Fisette said. "It is absolutely worthy of county support."
Wise said the county has granted Culpepper Gardens money in the past — such as $1.4 million from the affordable housing fund when it was built and a $60,000 subsidy for the assisted living wing — and called on the board to re-examine its plan.
"Now the owner of the facility, Arlington Retirement Housing Corporation, has requested “emergency” funds of almost $560,000 to bail it out for improvidently taking on too many seniors who require subsidies to live in the facility," Wise said. "Arlington taxpayers need to learn some details of its troubled business operation."
ON CULPEPPER GARDENS' financial past, Fisette said county money will renew the assisted living project.
"It is absolutely not a failing project," Fisette said. "This money will get it back on track."
The first wing of Culpepper Gardens was built in 1975. It was made up of 204 studio and one-bedroom apartments for senior citizens. Almost 20 years later, a second wing was added with 63 units. Both of these buildings served residents capable of independent living, according to Terry Lynch, director of the county's Agency on Aging. Seniors there receive meals but are otherwise capable of living on their own. Realizing the need for an assisted living wing — one in which seniors can be closely monitored, where medications are regulated and where they can receive other help — Culpepper constructed a third building in 2000. Most of its residents would not be able to afford other care. Lynch said that 66 percent of Culpepper Gardens' resident seniors have incomes below $18,000 per year and all of its residents make less than $32,000 per year.
"The people who live here really have no alternative," said Lynch. "We're taking really, really low-income people."
State funding covers about $1,045 per month for residents, she added, which breaks down to $34.83 per day.
"The real cost of all that care is going to be at least twice that," said Lynch. "That's the difference Arlington County is making up. You just couldn't do this without that help."