Bremen’s Senior Center finally filling up

BREMEN — For some aging members of the Bremen community, the Bremen Senior Center has become an affordable and comfortable housing option.
The property, on the northwest corner of Plymouth and Market streets, has had numerous faces over the years. Once a bank, it later became a hotel, which deteriorated into one of the more notorious locations in the area.
“The owner just wanted the rent, a lot of it paid on a week-to-week basis,” Bremen Director of Operations Rich Martin said. “It got to be an eyesore, a fire hazard and a place for druggies. That’s when the town jumped in and wanted to save this block.”
In a mid-1990s State of Indiana Quality of Life Survey, Bremen residents indicated affordable housing — especially for seniors – needed to be a community priority. The Town of Bremen partnered with numerous organizations to get the restoration project off the ground. The partners included the Rural Housing and Community Development Organization, which had completed similar projects in Northern Indiana.
Restoring the building’s luster was no small task. The project’s tab ran $1.3 million, with $732,000 coming from an Indiana Department of Commerce and Indiana Housing Finance Authority grant.
“The building was in dire straits,” Martin said. “The town took the initiative to seek local funding and grants, aquired the building and refurbished it. That meant gutting the whole thing.”
Completed in 1997, the end result was a 14-apartment complex, with a pair of 2-bedroom units and a dozen singles. The three-floor building with elevator has a full communal kitchen, a laundry facility on each floor, a community lounge and a spacious dinner/meeting room.
Some of the building remains unfinished, a result of the grant well running dry.
“There’s still much of the north end that could be more rooms or office space,” Martin said. “It just didn’t get done because they ran out of money.”
The center’s success was to be measured by its occupancy, which historically has been a challenge.
“The reason it’s been tough is because we have so many subsidized housing units in Bremen, and this is for low-income with no subsidies,” Martin said. “People go to the other places first because the government helps them out with rent, while here you just have to have a low income to qualify.”
When Martin assumed his post four years ago, only six of the units were filled. The center reached full occupancy for the first time last fall, but currently has one vacancy. Cost including utilities is $360 a month.
“That price is pretty hard to beat, and we’re hoping to get that last room rented in the near future,” Martin said.