Low-income seniors shouldn’t have to settle for cheap, cookie-cutter housing as their only independent living option, say the folks who developed the Cottages at Cathedral Square, a new 32-unit residential community in Belleville, IL. Through intricate planning — and extraordinary patience — the aesthetically pleasing, retro-styled neighborhood symbolizes a dramatic revitalization for the residents of this blue collar St. Louis suburb, says Rich Gonzalez, president of the Metropolitan Housing Development Corporation, based in Chicago.

“There is a lot of housing being constructed, but the working class is finding it hard to find suitable housing within their means,” he says. “This is a great blue collar area full of hard-working people. This had the chance to be built, so we did a market study and found that the people of Belleville wanted to stay there. It is a myth that people in the small towns want to be in the big city. For the most part, people want their town to progress a little.”

Consisting of five one- and two-story buildings totaling more than 31,000 square feet, the Cottages at Cathedral Square are situated near the historic and picturesque Cathedral of St. Peter, a city landmark for nearly 150 years. The $6 million project came about through a partnership between MDHC and Touchette Regional Hospital, which previously developed senior living communities in Centerville and East St. Louis, IL.

The design theme is based on the region’s history and especially “the glory days of the 1930s,” Gonzalez says. “We wanted the project to have the old German row house influence from the turn of the 20th century. Although they are called ‘cottages,’ these are real homes that have a warm feeling to them.”

All 32 units at Cottages at Cathedral Square are for low-income residents age 62 or older and include a range, refrigerator, microwave and dishwasher. The community’s amenities include a barbershop, a large community room, fitness center, gardening areas, patios, and barbeque grills. Touchette also has a medical clinic located near the development.

It is also the first facility in Belleville to receive the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard’s bronze certification for green practices incorporated into its design and construction. The green certification was awarded for its inclusion of energy- and water-efficient appliances, low-flow faucets, toilets and showerheads, and low VOC cabinets and carpets.

The certification also recognized Cottages at Cathedral Square as an infill project within walking distance of regular-use resources, including hospitals, the YMCA, schools and parks; and for its use of native landscaping and limited grass; a community garden and its household density per acre.

“This project will undoubtedly have a positive impact in downtown Belleville and will hopefully stimulate similar, additional new development in the future,” says Mark Hinrichs, president of IMPACT Strategies.


1. In this type of community there is a greater demand for one-bedroom units than two.

2. When there’s a partnership between a private entity and government agency, society benefits.

3. Building for low-income residents can bring huge rewards and offer hope to seniors who may have no other housing options.