A Collaborative Approach to Healthy Aging in Affordable Housing
Four years ago, 88-year old Muriel Tull (pictured, right, with her son Darrell Brown) moved from her three-bedroom apartment in the Bronx, where she raised her children and spent the last fifty years, to a one-bedroom apartment in East Harlem. She made the decision to move from a home and a community that was familiar to her into a smaller apartment in a new neighborhood out of necessity.
As she became older and more frail, it was no longer safe for Muriel to walk up three flights of stairs to her apartment every day, and so she set out to find a more accessible home. But with demand for apartments that are both accessible and affordable far higher than the supply in New York City, finding a new home was not easy. It took two years and 14 apartment viewings before Muriel moved into an elevator-equipped affordable housing complex owned by Ascendant Neighborhood Development Corporation , a mission driven non-profit housing developer in East Harlem. Muriel is grateful for the accessibility and support offered by the building. “I like living here,” she told us. “The super looks out for me.”
For older adults, moving from a familiar environment can be stressful, especially after spending many years in their own home. Additionally, the effort and costs associated with moving—attending apartment viewings or interviews, filling out housing applications, paying application fees, packing or hiring movers—can be a real barrier to seniors who rely on social security for most of their income. However, in this case, the benefits far outweighed the challenges of moving to a new building. Muriel is now able to leave her apartment whenever she likes and no longer feels like a prisoner in her own home due to her mobility challenges. Nevertheless, Muriel suffered a fall last year. Realizing his mother needed to make some changes to avoid further injury, her son and primary caregiver, Darrell, reached out to Enterprise for help.
With generous support from both The Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, Inc. and the John H. and Ethel G. Noble Charitable Trust, Enterprise is piloting a program that supports owners of affordable housing address the needs of elderly residents who are aging in place to create the evidence base for systems change within the affordable housing industry. The Healthy Aging in Affordable Housing Demonstration Project is a service connection, unit modification, and housing relocation program that is testing a suite of interventions aimed at facilitating healthy aging among low-income older adults residing in affordable housing. The Demonstration connects residents to professional occupational therapy, case management, benefit counseling and other social services, improves their home environments to support independence and prevent fall injury, and assists frail seniors living on upper floors of walk-up buildings relocate to more accessible apartments. Ascendant Neighborhood Development Corporation is the first housing provider to participate in the pilot and has played a crucial role in its development.
Darrell saw a flyer for the program in his mother’s building and shortly after contacting Enterprise, Muriel was connected to an occupational therapist at NYU Langone Medical Center and received much needed safety modifications to her home. The modifications were implemented after a thorough assessment of Muriel’s functional needs and are intended to help her perform routine tasks independently while preventing her from injuring herself. Changes to her apartment include a taller toilet seat, grab bars, an adjustable shower head and shelves that can be easily accessed in her kitchen cabinets. Following the home modifications, Ms. Tull was visited again by the occupational therapist to educate her on how to safely use her new home features.
Muriel reported that because of these home modifications, she “feels more secure.” She can take showers, get in and out of the bath tub, use the toilet and reach her cleaning supplies without the fear of falling. “My mother talks about her new grab bars daily” says Darrell. “We are very pleased.”