The Long Road to Affordable Senior Housing

NEW YORK – When Ynocencia Reynoso, 68, applied for an apartment at the University Heights Senior Housing complex in 2009, she was put on a waiting list with more than 200 other applicants.

Reynoso, a 68-year resident of University Heights, said that an apartment in the building was all she could afford. That’s the case for many elderly people in the area who end up on the waiting list. Many of them just wait, hoping to get in when a tenant moves out or dies. Reynoso had waited for three years when she finally received a phone call for a tenancy placement interview in July.

The University Heights building, classified by the New York City Housing Authority as independent living, provides housing services for people 62 years old or older as well as those with permanent disabilities who cannot afford rent on their own. It is subsidized by the State Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for eligible tenants. For the past 30 years, it has remained the only publicly financed apartment complex for seniors and the disabled in the neighborhood.

“We are fully occupied all the time,” says Janette Fortier, senior manager of the building. “We have a waiting list of three to four years. People are living longer and there is no place to go.”

When Reynoso applied at the age of 65, she was struggling with a back injury from a car accident, a condition that left her unable to work for seven years. Because of her age and disability, she was qualified to live in the building on two fronts. “I did not want to be a burden to my children,” she said.

Although she received federal disability payments, she still needed to take on menial jobs such as babysitting to pay her rent in a single-bedroom apartment she shared with two others. One month after her interview in July, she was offered a one-bedroom studio that had become available a resident senior moved out. She pays $166 a month, approximately 30 percent of her federal disability benefits. “I am very happy now,” she said. “I am going to live here until I die.”

A Real Need

Her story has a happy ending, but hundreds more Bronx residents are still waiting for help. The University Heights building has only 105 apartments – ranging from one-bedroom studios to three-bedroom units. It currently serves 125 tenants (including couples). Out of this number, about 80 percent come from the University Heights area.

According to the 2010 census, the neighborhood has 1,976 seniors more than it had in 2000, representing a 1.5 percent increase. Although the increase remains relatively low, no new low-cost housing has been built for seniors in the area.

In the statement of needs submitted to the Bronx Borough President for the year 2013 on behalf of Bronx Community District 5, District Manager Xavier Rodriguez requested funding for senior housing.

“It is one of the priority areas for this district,” Rodriguez said. “Though young, the population is getting older.”

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