Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Seniors to scramble for public housing - Gazette

More than 5,000 expected to vie for fewer than 100 coveted apartments

by Patricia M. Murret | Staff Writer | Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008

Seniors and disabled persons with severely limited incomes have high hopes, but slim shots, at landing a coveted spot in public housing in Montgomery County as housing officials prepare to accept applicants in an every-other-year process.

The Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County owns and operates about 900 units for low-income seniors and disabled persons, mostly in four high-rise apartment buildings: the Waverly House in Bethesda and Arcola Towers, Elizabeth House and Holly Hall Apartments in Silver Spring.

A waiting list opens Sept. 29 for the coveted units, many of which are occupied by longtime residents are not expected to be available anytime soon, said Les Kaplan, HOC's housing resources director.

Officials expect at least 5,000 applications for the 75 units currently available. In 2006, HOC received more than 4,000 applications for a handful of vacancies, and need has only been growing.

The "silver tsunami is rapidly approaching us as all the [baby] boomers start to turn 60," said Dr. Jay Kenney, chief of aging and disability services in the county's Department of Health and Human Services, who cited a "desperate need" for more senior affordable housing. "Eighty-and-older is the fastest growing segment of our population."

HOC's four senior and disabled apartment buildings were built in the 1970s. According to recent statistics compiled by the county's aging and disability services office, the county's senior population grew 86 percent from 49,700 in 1980 to 92,500 in 2000. It is expected to grow an additional 65 percent to 152,648 by 2020.

An affordable housing task force recently commissioned by the county executive recommended adding 80 senior housing units adjacent to the County Government Center in Rockville, but HOC and some county officials said that may not be enough.

"Nobody wants to leave their home," said Nancy Davachi, a Waverly House counselor, describing the "aging in place" syndrome that has long kept vacancies in the independent living centers at a minimum.

"Once they're in, they're in," said Kaplan. Getting in to any public housing is tough, he said. Applicants must prove that they are income-eligible and that they have no criminal background, previous evictions from a similar program or sex offenders in their families. Then they must enter the lottery system, which purges its rolls every two years. Those who get lucky as public housing residents must recertify every two years.

Tamuramotu Ashiru has lived in Bethesda's Waverly House for eight years.

"I enjoy it here, I'm happy here," said Ashiru, 71. According to HOC rules, residents must pay one-third of their incomes toward rent. Ashiru receives $637 monthly in supplemental Social Security income payments awarded to seniors, blind or disabled residents with little or no income; she pays $181 for her one-bedroom apartment.

Step into Waverly House and it's easy to imagine why few would want to leave. The 14-story high-rise on East-West Highway near Wisconsin Avenue is on a bus line that stops just steps from the building and residents walk to the nearby Metro station, churches and Bethesda's shopping district. Davachi helps senior and disabled residents coordinate personal care, nursing, transportation, shopping and other services so that they remain independent as long as possible.

"Let's face it, you get your electricity, the air conditioning, no problem about hot water," said Greg Barton, 76, who is wheelchair-bound and hard of hearing. "I'm on the 14th floor and I've got a view that some people would pay dearly for," he said, citing penthouse views of the Washington D.C. Temple, a Mormon center in Kensington.

He gets it all for $180 per month, which is fortunate, given his $560 monthly income from Social Security.

"I think they need more houses like this one," said Dora R. Gavilan, 81. "I don't have family, anybody…I am alone in this world," she said. Her monthly income is just more than $1,000, she said, thanks to Social Security and a small pension left by her husband.

Her rent at Waverly is $319 and she spends $53 on medicine monthly and $150 doctor bills every two months.

"Nothing is $3 these days…I love this place. I want to die here in [apartment] 904," she laughed.

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