Living Comfortably As You Age

A project is an extensive undertaking that is complicated, devised, or planned, using considerable money, personnel, and equipment. Low-income housing is “generically, any housing that is limited to occupancy by persons whose family income does not exceed certain preset maximum levels.” The Census Bureau defines “family” as a group of two or more related people who currently reside together. But, sometimes, a family consists of nothing more than a disabled or elderly woman and her cat.

According to Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, this woman has the same right to housing, an adequate standard of living, and social protection as everyone else in this world. Yet, there is a stigma attached to people who reside in low-income housing. And that socially discrediting reputation has nothing to do with her (or her cat).

People see images like these from New York City or scenes in movies or on TV, or they read, hear, or watch news reports about crimes that have taken place in lower-income communities and assume that low-income is a synonym for squalid conditions and criminality. Yet not all low-income apartment complexes are owned and operated by slumlords. And not all elderly and disabled people are horrible housekeepers and criminals.

Do you remember the Voya Financial TV commercial in which a couple surprised “Nana” with their guest room they had renovated for her to live with them full-time? They had her best interest at heart, but Nana insisted she was good at her condo. For seniors, the elderly, and the disabled, that is what we want as well — the ability to be good at our apartments.

We love our immediate family members and all the love and care they have provided us throughout the years. But we also love our independence because being self-sufficient helps us survive and thrive. My great-aunt was feisty and independent. Her husband died in 1959 after a mere twenty-eight years of marriage, and she went on to live another forty-two years without him or anybody else, for that matter.

When she was in her early seventies, Aunt Florence moved into low-income senior housing. And, like many people, I had my concerns about the facility. After all, it was in Philadelphia — NOT. But older folks whose families had a long history of living in Bucks County, PA, still considered Bensalem part of Philadelphia. And low-income housing developments in Philadelphia did come with a socially discrediting reputation.

But the one Aunt Florence moved into was nothing like any of the slums I had seen on TV shows or in the movies. Her complex was neat and clean and fully equipped for the needs of its aging population. And, although occasionally, you might hear someone yell, “Yo! Anyone got an aspirin” (because they are all too deaf to hear when someone whispers “Psst!”). I do not believe there has ever been any drug dealing going on in that place at all.

These are all people ages sixty-two and older who want to continue to live their lives as independently as possible without burdening their children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews in the process. And the same thing is true with people who have disabilities but can live on their own as well.

But, if you do not want the “retards” (who do not all have mental disabilities, by the way) living in your neighborhood or backyard, that is a “you problem” that only a change in your little mind and your little heart will ever be able to make. And you are not going to be able to make that change by trying to keep them away.

So, my goal with this newsletter is to help educate the public about seniors and people with disabilities who can live independently and the tools (including housing) available for them to achieve and maintain their independence.

According to Consumer Reports, there are ten types of senior living options. The low-income apartments that are for seniors ages sixty-two and older are what are known as age-restricted communities. And this remains true even when disabled people of any age live among them in one of those communities. The other types of senior living options are as follows.

1. Aging in place — living where you wish to live for as long as you are able

2. 55+ Retirement Communities (the low-income senior communities mentioned above fit into this category) — adult communities with age limits set at age 55

3. Continuing-care retirement communities — aging in place with a twist

4. Senior cohousing communities — communities with small private homes and a shared public kitchen and dining room, laundry, recreational area outdoor walkway, open space, garden, and parking

5. Senior home-sharing — like aging in place, but with a little help from your friends

6. Nursing homes — when you have done everything that you can, and Mom now needs round clock care

7. Respite care — a temporary break from your duties as Dad’s primary caregiver

8. Assisted living — help with bathing, walking, eating, dressing, etc.

9. Memory care facilities — communities for seniors who have Alzheimer’s dementia or other memory-related diseases

10. Hospice — end of life care

Four of the first five options are for independent living, and the last five are for those that require more assistance. The continuing-care retirement communities often have senior apartments, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes all on the same property. So, residents can move from one area of the community to another as their needs change.

But if you would rather not necessarily live with friends or relatives or live “the apartment life,” there is yet another option, and that is in a senior cohousing community. According to SeniorLiving.org, cohousing communities are available all over the country to people of all ages. But only thirteen are set aside exclusively for seniors. These senior communities are in New Mexico, North Carolina, Virginia, California, Oklahoma, Oregon, Colorado, West Virginia, Washington, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Utah.

According to Durham, North Carolina’s Village Hearth Cohousing’s website, they are a 55+ intentional neighborhood for LGBTs, straight friends, and allies. But you can find many LGBTs, straight friends, and allies in other age-restricted communities throughout this entire country. So, if nothing is available at Village Hearth, or you cannot afford to move there now, do not fret. You are always welcome to move into any of the other communities mentioned above. Or, if you would rather be in something smaller — Picture it: NBC, 1985–1992.

Yes, I am talking about The Golden Girls. Their living arrangement is technically known as senior home-sharing, and it falls under the category of aging in place. There are home-sharing programs around the country to help consumers who want to home-share but are unsure how to start. And home-sharing does not have to be age-restricted. So, if you’d like to have at least one younger housemate who can tend to the things you no longer can (including taking care of yourself), then home-sharing may be right for you.

With so many options to choose from, it is only a matter of which one is right for you or your loved one. The least costly would be aging in place, some age-restricted communities, and home-sharing. Residents can take care of themselves and need minimal help from others in each of those.

I am legally blind and single. But I am not yet fifty-five, and my son lives more than six hundred miles away. So, I live in a senior community that accepts the disabled of any age. And, my neighbors and I have already had the displeasure of being awakened by my pull string alarm. It was 4:00 am, and there were no treats in my cat’s bowl. So, after three months of successfully ignoring it, he decided to play with the pull string alarm instead. Still, I was happy to know that it worked and glad to see how quickly my neighbors checked to see if I was all right. And even though my alarm went off for four hours, because none of us knew we were allowed to flip our own switches to turn them off ourselves, no one got mad at my cat. After all, he could not have known that why the string was hanging there. So, he thought it must have been a toy.

There are numerous medical alert systems on the market today. But, if you cannot afford the monthly fees and other charges, cannot afford to live where you are currently living, and do not want to move in with family or a friend, then the option for you would be a low-income senior community. And, if you are a disabled person of any age in the same financial predicament, then a low-income senior community that also accepts the disabled would be the best place for you as well.

These communities do have waiting lists, and most can be a year or longer or even closed. But I believe the biggest issue with availability may be a human preference. In our younger years, we preferred to be on the top floor. That was so we could avoid hearing our neighbors walk, stomp, or run above us. But, now that we are older and a bit arthritic, we do not want to climb as much. But some of us (especially the younger ones) are much more able than we let on. So, if you go into your apartment search open-minded and willing to accept an apartment on a higher-level floor, you may be able to move in sooner. Then, once you have settled in as a resident, you can let management know that you would like to be added to the waiting list for a ground floor. And the time it takes to get into one will not depend upon how soon a ground-floor apartment becomes available. It will depend upon how many other residents who need to be in a ground-floor apartment are ahead of you on that waiting list. That is unless you are more severely disabled than any one of them.

Given my legal blindness, foot and ankle tendinitis, and severe arthritis (I need a bilateral knee replacement), I should not be living on the second floor. But I knew that most flights of stairs have thirteen steps, and I needed a place to live. So, since there was only one apartment available, I applied for it. There are handrails along both sides of every hallway and stairwell in my apartment complex. So, for my safety, I always keep one hand on a railing to prevent myself from potentially slipping or falling. And, I do have my name on the waiting list for the next available first-floor apartment.

Single seniors who live in low-income senior apartment complexes are only eligible to live in one-bedroom apartments. So, it pays to learn how to live with less stuff. Everything I own can fit into a 10-foot U-Haul Moving and Storage truck. So, that leaves less for my son to be concerned about when the time comes for me to move closer to him or for him to come out here and clear out my stuff when I am gone. And it also saves me money because I am not spending it each month on a storage unit full of things that he and I will not and do not need or use anymore. But I digress.

Another great thing about living in these complexes is they are low maintenance. All we need to do is housework. Or at least hire someone to come in and do it for us if we cannot do the bulk of it ourselves. All the rest of the upkeep and repairs are the property management company’s responsibility. So, I do not even have to change a light bulb unless it is in a desk or table lamp.

A great source for research and assistance is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Their website has plenty of information for and about everybody, including assistance animals. Assistance animals are not service animals or guide dogs. They are animals that do not just provide emotional support. They can detect and alert their companion of oncoming seizures, alleviate her depression or anxiety, reduce her stress-induced pain, and even alert her when someone has come to the door. And the animal in most of these examples was a cat. One night, my cat ran to my son’s bedroom and banged on his door, then urged him to follow him to the living room because I had stopped breathing in my sleep.

So, because assistance animals are not pets, landlords must reasonably accommodate tenants and potential tenants who have assistance animals by waiving their no pet policies and pet deposits. But you cannot do this through your words alone. You must provide your landlord with a letter from your doctor or therapist stating that you have a disability and how your pet is needed to cope with it and/or how the animal helps improve your symptoms. You must also attach a brief personal statement asking for “a reasonable accommodation to keep your pet who functions as an assistance support animal.” And, if your landlord or potential landlord denies your request, you do have the right to file a discrimination claim against that individual with a HUD or your own state’s government agency.

I love my cat. His companionship, cuddles, and purring do wonders to help soothe my emotional and physical pains. But even though I really could have used all the money I had left for anything else since I could provide my landlord with the $900.00 needed for my own security deposit, I also provided them with the $100.00 they needed for Henry’s deposit. And to be honest, when I finally get a guide dog (which will be in the not-too-distant future), I will insist upon my landlord accepting a deposit for him/her as well. That way, all bases are covered if my second pair of eyes ever decides to act like a dog instead.

So yes, where there is a will, there is a way for everyone to obtain affordable housing. And it does not always have to be in the suburbs or the inner cities. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a website called Rural Development Multi-Unit Housing Rentals. So, whether you wish to retire in rural West Virginia or on Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands there is bound to be a place listed on their website that is the perfect fit for you, your budget, and your beloved pet, assistance animal, service animal or guide dog.

** Originally posted by me on myLot on 26 Deceber 2021 and Simily on 10 January 2022

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Michelle Rostykus

Michelle Rostykus

Mother, sister, aunt, great-aunt, cousin, friend; love being a chamberlain and courtier to my six-year-old Brindled American Shorthair and living in the country