U.S. picks city for housing initiative

Program helps seniors stay in their homes

$1 million federal grant

September 15, 2002|By Anne Lauren Henslee | Anne Lauren Henslee,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ethel Eventoff is not your typical 93-year-old. She works out regularly, travels with friends, directs a seniors-only singing troupe and lives independently in her own apartment on Park Heights Avenue.

A professional musician, Eventoff retired last year after working as a music therapist at Taylor Manor for more than half a century. She has spent her entire life in Baltimore and hopes to never have to move. Thanks to the services provided free or for a nominal charge from Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc., a nonprofit community development agency of The Associated Jewish Federation, she is getting her wish.

Eventoff is one of about 1,000 Northwest Baltimore seniors, and an estimated 10 million nationwide, living in a naturally occurring retirement community (NORC) -- a natural byproduct of the increased longevity and growing independence of America's elderly population.

NORCs include apartments, condominiums, public housing and neighborhoods in which there are high concentrations of seniors who, like Eventoff, have chosen to age in place, in the cities, towns and neighborhoods where they are likely to have spent most of their lives.

Still content and capable to live independently in their own homes, they represent a growing phenomenon and with it a challenge for public policy makers, landlords and service organizations. They also represent a potential reprieve for a nation that, according to estimates by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spent $98 billion in 2000 for seniors who required institutionalization.

Recognizing the growing number of seniors who are remaining in nearby developments and the lack of readily available services, CHAI set out to meet the needs of those living in the Park Heights area. In 1997, it established a "senior-friendly" apartments program to promote affordable rental apartments in the northwest corridor as housing for seniors. CHAI then established Eating Together, a dining program twice a week, complete with transportation.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently took note of CHAI's efforts, awarding the agency $1 million to expand its services within Baltimore's northwest corridor. The program is a coordinated effort of several area agencies and will serve as part of the National NORC Demonstration Project, a five-city study to determine how to assist seniors who remain in their homes. Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and St. Louis also will take part in the project, which was granted a total of $3.68 million.

The funding will provide NORC residents in Northwest Baltimore with transportation services, expansion of current services to include 800 additional seniors, the designation of additional complexes, and subsidies for in-home emergency medical systems for low-income seniors. It also will provide assistance for the modernization of facilities; increased mental health counseling; cultural and educational training; and community building.

A resident of Bristol House since 1994, Cora Bigger believes that living in a NORC has given her a more fulfilling life.

"It makes your life better, because you really feel like you belong to a family, a lovely community," she explained. "We go to the movies; we see shows; we go out to lunch sometimes; we have special days where we go to the malls. There is always something to do. ... I don't think I would have done as well closed in, in a regular apartment building, if I wasn't a part of the senior-friendly program. It's wonderful."

At 72, Bigger gives back to the program by serving as the building's liaison. She assists seniors in filling out change-of-address forms, organizes trips to the voting booths during elections, attends all on-site functions and stays in contact with her neighbors, to make sure no one is left out. She says her dedication to the community is in direct response to all it has given her.

Eventoff, like Bigger, is amazed by the number of services available to her and other residents in her area. "We have exercise programs, crafts programs, Rom dance classes, and so much more," she said. "CHAI provides us with a calendar for the whole month, so we know what we can do every day. It gives us a reason to get up in the morning. And we have a wonderful social worker who you can cry your eyes out to in the privacy of your own home."

"Imagine yourself not being able to drive, or not having a car at your disposal. It can make life so difficult. Well, CHAI provides us with transportation. Can you imagine what CHAI means to us? ... It is our lifeline. ...

"God had to be on my side, because I was looking all over. Where was I going to live? I didn't know. I looked at every place and when I saw it I knew I would like to live in the Windsor House -- Windsor Castle, if you please. I can only tell you what you're hearing from me you will hear it from everyone who is fortunate enough to live in such a community."

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