Interview by Pamela Vincent Part II of II
This is a second part of an interview conducted in late April 2001 with Dorothy Noga and Scott Pollack of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. CMHA was just granted permission to designate 14 of their buildings for senior only thus excluding most homeless and disabled people. For the first part of the interview see Grapevine #47 on the website www.neoch.org
Grapevine: Why would a senior move from a surrounding that they are familiar with to Cedar Extension, which does not have a grocery store or senior center anywhere close? This goes against the LISC study that was done about senior needs in housing?
CMHA: Actually Cedar Extension specifically is a building that had been closed for total modernization. It was the first senior public housing building that was built in Cuyahoga County, perhaps the first senior complex in the whole nation. We took it off-line because it was built in the 50's and it needed major infrastructure work.
Grapevine: That is slated to reopen soon?
CMHA: Yes, it's slated to reopen in June. In modernizing the building there are a number of units that are equipped for people with disabilities. There are also a number of the grab bars and all that sort of stuff for seniors. In that particular case, and it's a good opportunity to talk about it, we're working to prepare to reopen it and we're in conversation with lots of seniors service providers. The golden age centers are very interested, although they won't be on site, providing services and transportation so that seniors can get to their senior facilities. The other thing is the seniors who lived at Cedar Extension before it closed are very interested in coming back. There's a real tie there and if somebody's a senior and they don't want to live at Cedar Extension, they don't have to.
Grapevine: Is there shopping nearby for them?
CMHA: It's still pretty limited but, even before it was shut down for modernization the building was fully occupied and one of the things we intend to do is to work to make sure they are comfortable and see what provisions can be made for them. There's a lot of development in the central area and we will see more services go in that area and we see more options as far as groceries. I think it will only increase as the development increases and the rebuilding takes place. I know there's a central market that's open one day a week across the street from that building. We'll see more there in the next few years.
Grapevine: What research was done to support the contention that seniors would
move into buildings operated by the Public Housing Authority when there are
so many other choices for senior housing in the community? Were seniors complaining that there weren't senior only buildings?
CMHA: Oh yes, and nationally seniors have been asking for this. You can talk to senior service providers who aren't in housing and they will tell you that seniors want this too.
Grapevine: So was there a questionnaire or a survey that was given to support this finding?
CMHA: No, but it's just been a hew and cry for years in terms of mixed populations, the young and the old... mixed populations has been an issue, it's one of the first issues I heard since I first walked in the doors of CMHA and that was in 1992. (Dorothy)
Grapevine: But basically there wasn't any real research done to support this finding?
CMHA: Maybe not formal but, certainly it was based on information that we have to live with in managing these buildings. You mentioned LISC before and we talked with folks from LISC involved in some of their surveys and they certainly brought up the issue of the mixed population. Now does it show up in their research? That I can't tell you but, after talking with some of their folks we heard it.
Without beating a dead horse here... here again it goes back to there's always been a decent percentage of our households that have been seniors. We believe that it's essentially been with Cedar Extension that was our first low income public house complex in the country. It's always been our mission to serve the elderly. I guess sometimes it bothers me a little bit that somehow that doesn't have to be our business anymore and it is. It certainly a population group that we have every interest and intention to continue to serve.
Grapevine: That population will get bigger and bigger?
CMHA: I was just going to say with baby boomers...there's a lot more competition and partly what we're trying to do is keep our share of the market. We have to be more competitive with all the 202's that are out there. We have to do certain things to be more competitive. The aging population is growing and when you think about it and you take a look at the definition of baby boomers...what's the first year of baby boomers? Probably right after the war so about 1946...the oldest of the baby boomers are over 50.
Grapevine: Do you think that this plan is consistent with the City of Cleveland
Consolidated plan which recommends only new construction of senior only
CMHA: You know we don't know...we're going to be vague on this because we're kind of lost as to what you really mean, because we don't feel that what you're saying is necessarily right. The city of Cleveland is aware of our plan and does not feel that we're in conflict with the consolidated plan. So let's answer it that way.
Grapevine: Does their consolidated plan specifically say that?
CMHA: Not to our knowledge...no, is that fair? We and they feel that what we've done is not in conflict with their consolidated plan. It goes back to the point we've been trying to make. We have housed 2000 families and if we choose to try and concentrate them a little bit more what does that have to do with...? We don't understand it, that's why we think that statement doesn't reflect what the consolidated plan is. We still have a senior population we're trying to address.
Grapevine: I think it probably has to do with the needs of the seniors in the older facilities? While the Cedar Extension has been renovated and brought up to code perhaps the other older buildings have not and aren't safe for seniors?
CMHA: We certainly can't address other older properties other than our own.
Grapevine: So the 14 buildings are...?
CMHA: There're in good shape. Some of them have been modernized and some of them we've made some pretty sizable investments in, in the last 10 years and I think you'll find that most of our buildings are in good shape particularly in the neighborhoods where they are.
Grapevine: I understand that seniors want to live in a senior only buildings, but doesn't CMHA have to be concerned about the needs of the entire community? Shouldn't CMHA work with other housing providers in the community to make sure that there is a place for everyone to live?
CMHA: We're working with them and we do. We have the public housing program which obviously is what we've been talking about because that's what the designated program refers to. But we also now, through our section 8 program, have over 10,000 vouchers in the county. In fact recently we initiated a program called "Gateway" where we've designate 700 of those to be administered through "Eden" that's got about 10 different social service agencies that make referrals from special needs population. We've been trying to address their needs but, in a variety of ways.
Here again just because we've designated half our inventory of zero and one (bedroom units) to the elderly it still leaves another 25 buildings available for non seniors. I think that...I just don't want you to think we aren't doing anything or what we've done is going to cause a big problem. Several years ago there was another program for section 8 where we housed about 500 families. We've been making an effort to work with the community to address the needs of the homeless and disabled handicap. We work with the Salvation Army they have a block of units over at Wilson. We have 3 different programs for transitional housing where we've taken units off-line and allowed them to operate programs in our buildings. We've also been working with NEOCH in Bridging the Gap.
Grapevine: Last question and we may have touched on this already but, at what point will you at CMHA reverse this plan if you cannot fill buildings like Riverview or Cedar Extension? Will you reverse this plan in August when you put together next year's plan if you cannot fill the buildings or will you wait until next year's HUD audit?
CMHA: Well we've just started. We've just started implementing the plan and we've only done it with the folks who are already on the waiting list so we're not going to be ready to do anything this summer at all. We will continue to monitor the numbers and access whether it's working with the 14 buildings or whether we don't need 14 buildings to be designated but, when that will happen we can't say. We will be reviewing numbers.
Grapevine: August really isn't that far away.
CMHA: Right, you need to give any new program some time to really shake out. Another fact you might not be aware of is that when HUD gave us it's designation it's for 5 years.
Grapevine: You've locked into the seniors only buildings for 5 years?
CMHA: Yes, 5 years. It's not forever, so we need to monitor it. When HUD approves a designated housing plan they approve it for a 5 year period and at the end of the 5 years we have to reapply. It's locked in for 5 years and we're going to keep looking at the numbers
Grapevine: It probably won't take 5 years to see whether the plan effective or not?
CMHA: No, but it will take more than 4 or 5 months. We will definitely not be looking at making any changes this year.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #48 -2001