Public housing's unstable mix Elderly victimized: Weeding out young miscreants from senior complexes a must.

July 22, 1996

MIXING ELDERLY and young disabled tenants in public housing units is tricky business, as local jurisdictions have discovered. A number of the younger tenants or their friends have frightened and, in some cases, victimized elderly tenants. Local housing authorities are aware of the problem. They must continue to act aggressively to defuse this potentially harmful situation before it gets out of hand.

Two disparate changes in federal housing law unintentionally laid the groundwork for changing the character of elderly public housing. In 1988, Congress opened public housing for seniors to any disabled person. Two years later, the Americans with Disabilities Act broadened the definition of "disabled" to include recovering addicts.

Compounding the problem is the continuing decline in the number of units for low-income people of all ages, and the growth in the number of low-income disabled citizens. As a result, public housing authorities have had to place recovering addicts, many of whom have violent pasts and continue to associate with unsavory characters, in apartments that once sheltered only the elderly.

The result: Formerly peaceful senior housing units have experienced a rash of criminal incidents including rape, robberies, assaults, theft, vandalism and disorderly conduct.

Confronted with increasingly fearful tenants, Baltimore City and Anne Arundel housing officials have stepped up efforts to weed out troublemakers and maintain a number of units exclusively for the elderly. However, Larry A. Loyd, executive director of the Anne Arundel County Housing Authority, rightfully concludes that he doesn't want to segregate disabled tenants into complexes by themselves.

Careful screening, aggressive enforcement of leases and federal government housing rules, and quick eviction of unruly tenants will be the most effective weapons against this disruptive minority.

For this strategy to work, however, tenants must not cower. They have to notify managers and social workers when they observe trouble. And managers must respond quickly. If they don't, the elderly and well-behaved disabled tenants will suffer. They deserve better at this stage of their lives.

Pub Date: 7/22/96

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