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Bronx, New York
Innovative housing development coupled with supportive services for grandparents raising their grandchildren.
Identifying the Issue:
Across the United States, about 7.8 million children live in homes headed by grandparents or other relatives. Almost 3 million grandparents report they are responsible for their grandchildren’s needs. These families, headed by grandparents and other relatives who share their homes with their grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and/or other related children are known as grandfamilies. According to Generations United one considerable issue this population faces is housing:
- Grandparents and other relative caregivers often take on full time care for children with little or no warning time to plan for appropriate housing.
- They may live in small apartments that are unsuitable for children and that fail to meet occupancy requirements.
- They may qualify for government subsidized housing but cannot secure an appropriately sized apartment because they are not the legal guardian.
- Caregivers in senior housing may be subject to eviction if children need to move in with them.
- Presence of additional children may violate private lease agreements and/or occupancy standards.
- After taking on the extra expense of raising children, grandfamily caregivers may no longer be able to afford their existing housing.
One of the first and most successful projects to address this need was the Grandparent Family Apartments in the Bronx, New York. The Presbyterian Senior Services, which started offering support groups and providing services to grandfamilies in the early 1990’s partnered with the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing to build the Grandparent Family Apartments, a 50-unit building totaling 66,470 square feet. Apartments are available to grandparents 62 years and older, who have household incomes lower than the area median (the average income for residents is approximately $10,000/year), and have legal custody of their grandchildren. Rents are subsidized so that tenants pay thirty percent of their annual income.
Building for the Need:
Special physical features, like elevator service, handrails in the hallways and bathrooms, and temperature control that makes sure the shower does not get too hot, help older residents and children to live comfortably. Other features include laundry rooms on each floor, senior and youth community rooms, outdoor green space, and 24 hour front door security. Each apartment is large enough to comfortably fit the families and allow grandparents to have their own bedrooms.
Programming Success into the Equation:
The apartment building itself is not only built for the young and the old to live together, it is also programmed to provide grandfamilies with emotional, psychological, and social support. An on-site program is professionally staffed by social workers and educators and offers a wide variety of services to both residents and others in need of support, including parenting workshops, after-school programs, grandparent support groups, tutoring, counseling, case management, and youth activities.
For example, in 2014, the grandparents focused on their health in a Healthy Living Workshop, a Well-Care Wellness Program, and a diabetes workshop hosted by VNS (the Visiting Nurse Services). Youth received occupational skills training, engaged in career exploration and work readiness activities, and prepared for high school equivalency exams through the Young Adults Success Program.
Seeing the Results:
- The fifty unit apartment building is home to approximately 55 to 60 grandparents and almost 100 grandchildren.
- Last year the Grandparents Family Apartments helped 120 youth stay out of foster care.
- Over 90% of the young people in the building progressed to the next grade in school.
- There is power in having a supportive community: The Grandparent Family Apartments receives funding from a complex web of supporters. When families were recently informed that New York City’s funding for after-school programs would be cut, grandparents came together to discuss how they would address this challenge. They not only decided to lobby the administration, they also settled on an old-fashioned bake sale, selling their cakes out of local senior centers to raise more immediate funds.
Program Manager, Kindship Caregivers Program