The Elderly Population is Booming <FONT SIZE=2>How to Handle a Demand for Special Services</FONT>

How to Handle a Demand for Special Services

Will you trade in your co-op or condo for a Florida address when you reach retirement age? Don't be so sure. More and more New Yorkers are choosing to age in place in the same apartment they fell in love with when they were in their prime. If at least half of the units in your co-op or condo are occupied by people aged 60 or over, your building has evolved into a naturally occurring retirement community (NORC), a newly-coined phrase that reflects a growing trend. Even if your building doesn't have a large percentage of elderly now, it's not too soon to learn more about the NORC phenomenon. What you find out today could help you protect your real estate investmentand quality of lifedown the road.

The United States has a growing population of senior citizens; in fact, statistics show that by the year 2025, 20 percent of the population will be over the age of 65. What's more, many apartment owners are choosing to stay put when they reach retirement age. A national survey conducted in 1995 by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) revealed that 86 percent of older Americans want to stay where they are as they grow older. Co-op and condo living is ideal for seniors because there are no stairs, no lawns to mow and no snow to shovel.

A Group with Special Needs

However, co-ops and condos weren't built with the elderly in mind, so they rarely offer the social, health or personal services that older residents need to help them maintain independent and satisfying lives, points out Judith Grimaldi, an associate attorney with the law firm of Kurzman, Karelsen & Frank, LLP in Manhattan. This reality, along with the fact that in recent years certain government social services have been reduced, will present the co-op and condo community with a unique challengehow to create a private solution to a societal problem.

An aging population in your building is worth taking note of. Your dynamic 70-year-old neighbor, who jogs three times a week, is certainly self sufficient now. But what happens in ten years? If his health fails, he might become quite frail or even housebound. The building superintendent might find himself stepping in to run errands or lend a sympathetic ear, potentially leading to a situation in which the super is spending a lot of time providing social services for elderly residents and less time performing building maintenance tasks. And, if an elderly resident doesn't have housecleaning help, and keeps a three-year accumulation of newspapers, you could find that you're living down the hall from a potential health or fire hazard that could affect the market value of your real estate investment.In luxury buildings, where the residents can usually afford to pay for personal services, it won't be as much of an issue, Grimaldi adds. The smaller, independent co-ops and condos will face the greatest challenge as they struggle to address the needs of the elderly population. They can learn a lot by watching what the large complexes do as they cut their teeth.

A Model Program in Queens

In 1994 a group of concerned residents at Clearview Gardens, a 1,788-unit co-op in Whitestone, Queens, formed a volunteer group called the Clearview Assistance Program (CAP). We suspected that over 50 p ffb ercent of our population was elderly, and that a great many of them could use help with day-to-day things that younger people take for granted, but we had no way of being sure until we did a door-to-door survey, says Milt Chaikin, chairman of the Clearview Community Council, a group of co-op residents that worked with the board of directors at Clearview Gardens to get the program off the ground.

After interviewing all interested residents aged 60 and over, CAP volunteers evaluated the needs of this older population. They learned that while many needed something as simple as a weekly ride to the supermarket or pharmacy, other residents had far more serious issues such as how to make the move to a nursing home. In 1995, CAP hired a part-time social worker to assist these more needy residents in obtaining the specialized social services they required. During the first year, the cost of the social worker was split between the co-op and the Samuel Field YMCA in Littleneck, New York. Chaiken has also obtained small amounts of grant money through the New York State Department for the Aging.

The CAP program features a clever buddy system that's both cost effective and easy to implement. Regularly-scheduled phone calls and visits by healthier seniors help monitor the well-being and safety of their more frail neighbors. In addition to older helpers (who reportedly benefit just as much from this volunteer work), CAP is also staffed by volunteers from local high schools as well as social work students. These people run important errands like grocery shopping and they also provide companionship. America's First NORC

Clearview has learned a lot from watching how things are done at Penn South Houses, a 2,820-unit co-op located on the West Side of Manhattan. In 1986 Penn South became home to the very first NORC supportive services program in the United States. When we moved in, about 33 years ago, everyone was nice and young. But, since then, our neighbors have aged quite a bit, says Nat Yalowitz, vice president of the board, and a founder of the program at Penn South. A licensed social worker with over 35 years experience in social and health services, Yalowitz specializes in geriatrics.

We realized Penn South had become a naturally occurring retirement community about 15 years ago. You can't help but notice if a significant number of your neighbors are considerably older, especially if some are disheveled or appear disoriented. I remember one evening we saw a Penn South resident standing out in the middle of Eighth Avenue in his underwear. We later found out he had Alzheimer's. Some co-op boards feel they only have a responsibility toward keeping the maintenance low or taking care of the building, but we felt we should step in to attempt to help our elderly neighbors.

Yalowitz conducted a door-to-door survey to identify the needs at his NORC, and the board voted to allocate funds for a part-time social worker. Soon after, Yalowitz began searching out additional sources of funding and he obtained a $500,000 from a private foundation. Today, as it prepares to celebrate its tenth anniversary, Penn South's NORC supportive services program receives funding from various sources including New York State and New York City Departments for the Aging. One-quarter of the budget is funded by the co-op's operating budget.

A Full-Service Program

Members of Penn South's senior set, which comprises 75 to 80 percent of the co-op's population, have access to a variety of programs designed for both healthy and frail seniors. The senior center, which is located in a community space on the ground floor, is open five days a week and is mainly staffed by Self Help Community Services, Inc., a private social services agency, and the Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged. Services range from the coordination of home care, home care provider workshops, and caregiver support groups to seminars given by financial experts such as AARP tax counselors to a variety of recreational activities including sculpture and ffb exercise classes as well as intergenerational gardening where the youngest residents are encouraged to mingle with the oldest.Participants love the convenience of having a full-service senior program right where they live. You don't have to travel, so you never have to worry about the weather stopping you from getting there, says Emma Spector, an 81-year-old Tai Chi and chair exercise fan who's frequently volunteered her clerical abilities at the center.

One of Spector's contemporaries, Mildred Heetner, is an avid sculptor who believes in keeping her mind alert. It's important to have a reason to get up in the morning, Heetner says. Most people need something to do after they retire. My weekly sculpture class at the center is wonderful. It's mentally challenging and very therapeutic.According to Karen Straus, NORC supportive services program director at Penn South, Residents feel a tremendous sense of pride because our program was initiated by the co-op itself. Some residents contribute extra money to help; in fact, 20 people have willed the equity of their apartments to help the endowment.

Finding the Funding

Despite their popularity among elderly residents, NORC supportive services programs are few and far between. According to Yalowitz, there are only ten state-supported NORCs in New York State. The programs at all of these locations have applied for and received some portion of the $1 million in grant money that was made available through legislation in 1994, Yalowitz explains.

However, William Spellecy, program manager at the New York State Office For the Aging in Albany, points out that these co-ops have been able to apply for grant money only because they meet the state's stringent requirements: 1. A minimum of 50 percent of the housing units in the building or complex must be occupied by residents aged 60 or over; or 2,500 housing units (regardless of the percentage) must be occupied by residents in this age group; 2. The majority of the elderly must be low to moderate income as defined by federal guidelines; 3. The building or complex must have been constructed with funds provided by the government; 4. The building or complex must not have been originally built for elderly persons or restrict residence to only elderly shareholders or owners.

Most co-ops and condos in New York City don't meet these criteria, but Yalowitz says other resources can be identified and tapped through careful planning and fund raising campaigns. We're available to assist smaller, private buildings in coming up with an individualized program for their smaller scale needs, says Yalowitz (who can be reached at 212-243-3670). And if neighboring co-ops band together, they can multiply their ability to develop resources. Yalowitz has been asked by the Co-operative Development Foundation in Washington, D.C. to help develop a national NORC Supportive Services Program. This is good news, he points out, because having a national program would increase the sources of funding.

Ms. Mosher is Associate Editor of The New York Cooperator. Preserving Institutional Memory
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