By Barney Blakeney
The spotlight may have been cast on residents at Grand Oak Apartments West Ashley in Charleston, but it’s an issue many senior citizens have faced more in recent years – having affordable housing that’s decent, safe and offers some comforts as they grow older. The situation at Grand Oak Apartments simply highlights what likely will become more prevalent.
The apartments were developed as housing for low to moderate income residents. It was financed using federal funding with a stipulation the property would serve that constituency at least 30 years. For many seniors that’s their lifetime. The 59 one and two-bedroom apartments on moss-draped Highway 61 provide them an idyllic setting in their senior years. But a loophole allows the owners to increase rental costs after 15 years. So in July, residents of Grand Oak were notified their rents would go up to market values in three years. That means single residents would have to earn more than $40,000 annually to continue living at the complex.
Cynthia Gerideau-Richardson, a six-year resident at the apartments, is among residents who are challenging the new demand. Among their responses her neighbors are calling the demand senior-abuse, bullying and “a grand mess!” But many although nervous, scared and unsure of their next moves, say their spirit to fight is sinking and though many are living only on their Social Security income, they plan to relocate.
Most feel betrayed, especially new residents who used their savings to move into the complex recently. Management knew those people soon would be displaced, but rented apartments to them anyway, Gerideau-Richardson exclaimed. And that betrayal apparently continues. A flyer recommending paid movers to assist residents ready to relocate lists the minimum cost at about $200 – management provided a “fabulous offer” giving residents $300 toward relocation. And a listing of alternative housing options for Grand Oak Apartments residents include properties already converting to marketplace rent.
That may be indicative of the housing dilemma facing low to moderate income seniors. Charleston’s Mayor Office on Aging Coordinator Jamie Roper said as more housing developed for those citizens reach the limits of their term agreements, likely they also will convert to marketplace rents. Most seniors fall into the low to moderate income category, she said, and with fewer housing being developed for that growing population, the challenge is the demographic is growing faster than the development of housing to accommodate them.
The future of senior citizen housing paints a distressing picture, Roper said. The average income isn’t growing as fast as the cost of living. That presents serious issues for individuals living on fixed incomes. Roper said she receives more calls about senior housing and healthcare than any other concerns. She called the growth in the senior population a tsunami for which many are unprepared. And as the demand for both needs far outweigh the supplies, individuals and their families will have to return to some traditional ways of coping.
Unless seniors own their homes, their future for housing becomes questionable, Roper said. For many that has not been a long term vision. And even when seniors go where they think they’ll live out their lives things can change, she said. In the meantime, she suggests that seniors unsure of the possibilities for housing get on existing waiting lists. Most complexes have lists three-five years long. But you can’t get to the top of the list if you’re not on it, she emphasized.
Gerideau-Richardson feels blessed. She has a few options. She has personal transportation that allows her mobility and the option to move to areas where cheaper rents still exist. And she has family members that may provide an option for housing. She acknowledges however, for some others there are fewer options. For them the question is, “Where do you go?”