Signs Of Senior Housing 'No Vacancy' Waiting Lists,high Rents Create 'crisis'

December 04, 1990|By Gary Gately

It's a clean, well-lighted place with a view.

A splendid view it is. A golf course stretches hundreds of yards before giving way to an explosion of oranges and browns and greens in all their autumn glory.

Oh, to go out there again.

Dorothy Flores can only wish. It is a modest dream, perhaps, but one that preoccupies Flores as she whiles away the days in the big recliner where she spends practically all her waking hours.

For now, the 72-year-old laments, the steps in her Arnold apartment building might as well be bars: A hip replacement operation rendered her incapable of climbing stairs three months ago.

"I never ever thought I'd be in this situation," says Flores, a retired bookkeeper. "This really is a prison, and I'm a prisoner here, not even being able to get out of my own house."

Three months ago, after falling and fracturing her hip, the solution seemed simple enough. She would leave behind the apartment and move into senior citizen housing with an elevator.

Her daughter-in-law, who lives in Severna Park and shops for Flores and helps tidy the apartment, checked around for nearby affordable senior housing. She soon returned with the bad news: No vacancy, not in Anne Arundel County, not now, and probably not any time soon.

And so Dorothy Flores, like many other older citizens, discovered what many others find out when they look for senior housing in Anne Arundel.

"Nobody moves out," she says. "You have to wait for them to go into a nursing home or die."

* Indeed, with waiting lists typically stretching three years for public housing and the scarce private stock running upward of $1,500 a month, many elderly folks end up trapped in homes where they can no longer climb steps, clean, cook or navigate bathrooms.

Other seniors, no longer capable of maintaining their homes, find that Anne Arundel County has nothing to offer them.

That forces many to move elsewhere. They leave behind not only their homes, but their relatives and friends, the corner groceries where they shopped, the streets and parks where they strolled, the clubs where they shot the breeze and the churches where they worshiped.

"It really is a crisis," says Michael Banscher, the housing specialist at the county's Department of Aging. "In Anne Arundel County, there simply isn't any senior housing that's available."

Which is precisely what he tells people who call his Annapolis office.

Stunned, many refuse to believe him at first.

"These places," he says, "they're out there, and they're visible, and people see other seniors living there and say, 'Why can't I get one, too?' They just can't understand why other people can get into them and they can't."

Banscher, whose office received some 900 inquiries about senior housing in a one-year span ending last June 30, most for subsidized housing, says he understands the frustration.

He recalls a church group asking him a few months ago to speak to a group of elderly members who might soon need senior housing in Anne Arundel County.

"I said, 'I'm not sure you really want me to speak about senior housing,' " he says. "I'm just going to be the prophet of doom. I'm just going to depress the hell out of them.' " His advice to many: Check Howard or Baltimore or Prince George's counties. You won't find what you're looking for in Anne Arundel.

Advocates for the elderly have repeatedly pointed to the need for more senior housing in Arundel over the past few years. Without it, the gaps will widen much more, as the number of seniors is expected to rise about 62 percent over the next two decades.

Of course, many of Anne Arundel's aging citizens will need and demand more senior housing in every price range. They need housing that offers everything from help with daily tasks such as cooking, bathing and housekeeping to full-scale nursing care in a home-like environment.

Despite the rapid graying of the population, however, community opposition, soaring land prices and strict county zoning regulations sharply restricting senior housing have led to severe shortages. Many fear it will grow worse.

Indeed, Banscher says he has been forced to tell not only seniors to look elsewhere, but also several developers interesting in building desperately needed senior housing in Anne Arundel.

As a result, Anne Arundel lags behind some surrounding counties where "continuing care" retirement communities have proliferated, offering housing, meals, social and medical services and full nursing care if the need arises. In neighboring Howard County, for instance, several such communities have sprung up in recent years, catering to a wellspring of demand among moderate- and upper-income homeowners.

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