More than 10 years ago, when Ira D. Greene looked for an assisted-living home for his grandmother, he found that no place would accept the Northwest Baltimore woman without at least $150,000 just to get in the door.
Even if his immigrant grandmother from Kiev had that kind of money, he said, "she would have had a coronary" signing the check.
Out of Greene's frustration grew his decision to develop a rental assisted-living facility for the elderly -- without an upfront fee.
Yesterday, Greene, a nursing-home owner in Rodgers Forge, along with executives of Genesis ElderCare of Pennsylvania, broke ground on Atrium Village, a $28.5 million, 230,000-square-foot project in Owings Mills for 278 residences. Rents are expected to be set at under $2,000 a month, Greene said.
The project -- scheduled to open by early 2001 in the 4700 block of Atrium Court off Lakeside Boulevard -- will accommodate 197 independent-living units and 81 assisted-living units, 20 of which will be set aside for people with Alzheimer's disease or other memory impairments.
The facility is the latest effort to provide housing for Baltimore County's growing elderly population. The county has the highest percentage of residents over 60 in Maryland, according to the county's Department of Aging.
While 19 percent of the population -- or 139,000 -- was older than 60 last year, the state projects that number will grow by 49 percent, to 207,000, by 2020.
Housing options for the elderly range from federally subsidized units to expensive continuing-care facilities that require not only entrance fees that can exceed $200,000, depending on the size of the unit, but also monthly fees for a range of living and medical expenses.
Kent R. Hugill, Genesis' vice president, told a group of about 50 people at the groundbreaking that Atrium Village will be a "new view of retirement living" and one of a few in the area without a high upfront fee.
The project will include studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, a 24-hour emergency response system, dining rooms, a fitness room, and a computer room with Internet access.
Residents with Alzheimer's disease and others with memory problems will have 24-hour supervision, on-site therapy and a secure garden terrace.
After yesterday's groundbreaking, Stanley Roll, a member of the county's commission of aging and a real estate broker, said the Atrium project "is a step forward" in affordable senior housing.
But, he said, many elderly people in need of assisted living will find the new project out of their price range. There are long waiting lists for affordable housing in Baltimore County and elsewhere.