Ella Dene Stewart-Yahnel was born and raised in Moab, and has moved 69 times in her 66 years.
“This is going to be my last move,” Stewart-Yahnel, formerly Gritts, joyfully affirmed.
Stewart-Yahnel will be moving into the latest project from the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah, the Moab Area Partnership for Seniors (MAPS) building specifically for those 55 years of age and older.
The MAPS building has been under construction since last summer and authorities expect it will receive a certificate of occupancy this week. Residents will be invited to move in at the end of June and beginning of July.
Stewart-Yahnel has been an opera singer in Utah, California and Nevada and in between moves to pursue her career or to locate to her husband’s construction job sites, she would return to Moab and give voice lessons and performances, bringing her skill to her home community. Her husband died two years ago, and Stewart-Yahnel now spends her time helping to care for her grandchildren and writing children's books. She can hardly wait to move into her new home.
“I’m so in love with my new apartment,” she said.
Right now she lives in a 70-year old home that has electrical and pest problems.
“Scary is an understatement,” she said in describing the house.
It’s also difficult to navigate in the wheelchair Stewart-Yahnel has used since she lost both legs to diabetes. Thick carpets, high thresholds, and a high shower rim make her current home an obstacle course. Her new apartment will have a roll-in shower, no carpets, and no thresholds.
From her windows, she will have views of the Portal, as well as of peach orchards where she used to pick peaches as a child. Now, she says, she will take her grandchildren to play under those trees.
“I’m just so grateful to my hometown for bringing this about,” she said. “Because I never dreamed, at 66 years old, I’d be alone, I’d be without legs.”
Ben Riley, Director of HASU, is also excited for residents to move in. He described the facility’s amenities, including a communal computer room, a fitness room and a community room or lounge where tenants can hold gatherings or hang out. Units are not furnished, but are fully equipped with appliances and tenants will share a communal laundry area.
Outside, there will be an open patio with seating and a rooftop deck. Riley said the landscaping remains to be done, but the plan includes lots of shady trees.
“It has awesome views of both the Portal and the La Sals,” Riley said of the building. “Overall it’s a great location for the project, for the clients, for the community.”
HASU identified a need for affordable housing specifically for seniors in the region, commissioning a market study in 2018 which recognized that Grand County has a much larger proportion of residents aged 50-65 than the rest of Utah. About one in six Grand County renters, the study found, are 55 years old or older.
The study estimated there are 167 prospective renters in Grand County who would qualify for MAPS based on age and income.
The MAPS building has 30 one-bedroom and six two-bedroom units available. While renters must be 55 or older, they may bring younger family members as part of their household. One pet per unit is also allowed.
Units are rent-controlled to serve low-income residents, with slightly different criteria depending on the size of the household. Income thresholds to be eligible for a unit in the MAPS building range roughly from $15,500 to $32,800 per year. Monthly rents are determined according to income, and will range from $280 to $850, depending on the unit and household income.
Several of the units are specifically set aside for ADA accessibility, veterans, those with mental disabilities and people experiencing homelessness.
Riley said HASU is working with local partner agencies like Seekhaven and Four Corners Community Behavioral Health to reach those demographics and invite them to apply for MAPS housing. The income criteria remain the same for those units.
“We’re absolutely still accepting applications,” Riley said, noting that about half the units are currently reserved. Stewart-Yahnel was the very first applicant for the building.
“This MAPS is a home for locals, for good,” she said, “and I’m just so grateful. And it’s awesome, it’s not just ‘okie-dokie.’ There’s a real effort that has gone, and is going, into this.”