Senior Power: Aging in place is growing older without having to move.

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Monday December 06, 2010 - 05:19:00 PM

Aging in place is not having to move from one's present residence in order to secure necessary support services in response to changing needs. It is estimated that 70% of seniors spend the rest of their life in the place where they celebrated their 65th birthday. 

“Aging in place supports the notion that older persons should be able to maintain a desirable lifestyle by participating in their communities, remaining independent as their health allows, having access to educational, cultural, and recreational facilities, feeling safe, and living in an intergenerational environment. This is especially true of low- to moderate-income older persons whose financial constraints limit their choices.” (NeighborWorks America) 

An investigation of older adults’ housing dissatisfaction and subsequent cognitive decline revealed that physically inadequate housing may have a direct effect on their rate of cognitive decline. (Journal of Housing for the Elderly, 24:1 [2010]) 

Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) are places where a high percentage of older residents live, even though they were not initially planned or marketed with older adults in mind. In the mid-1980’s UJA Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York began targeting health and social services to older adults who were living in market rate apartment buildings in New York City where older adults were the predominant residents. These buildings became known as NORC. 

NORC has come to be used as an umbrella term, and what constitutes a NORC has evolved based on the work of researchers, agencies, and policymakers. A NORC is a residential area in which a large percentage of individuals aged 65 and older reside; services needed by the members may or may not be provided. NORCs now vary greatly in terms of location (e.g., urban, rural, suburban), scale of the setting (e.g., apartment building, neighborhood), population size, physical and social characteristics, and whether or not formal service programs are included in membership provisions. 

Recognizing the potential for broader applicability of the NORC model, Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) embarked on the NORC Aging in Place Initiative in 2001, to seek federal assistance to promote the development and testing of the NORC model nationally. Between fiscal years 2002 and 2008, JFNA helped federations and their beneficiary agencies to secure federal demonstration grants in 45 communities in 26 states. There are NORC demonstrations in California in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Diego. 

Maggie Kuhn would have perked up at the sound of something like NORC. And she probably would have asked “How much?!” Although NORCs are one of the forms of residential place types for older adults in the United States, relatively little is known about life inside a NORC or how NORCs will impact the housing landscape for older adults. 

HUD-administered Section 8 housing projects for seniors and disabled are not examples of NORCs. Strawberry Creek Lodge is not a NORC. 

Sausalito Village (November 16, 2010 Berkeley Daily Planet) and Ashby Village are not examples of NORCs. 

Ashby Village is a close kin to a NORC, however. It “… provides members in the greater Berkeley area with the practical means, social connections, and resources to enable us to remain independent and supported in our own homes as we age.” It is part of a pioneering effort in this country to re-craft the ways in which people age. Given that the Village Movement has been for the most part the grassroots undertaking of middle to upper-middle class people, the government and foundation funding that typically supports nonprofit organizations is less available. Membership fees are the fundamental source of revenue for most Villages. Maintaining members as well as being able to offer subsidized memberships for lower income members, is one of the main topics of discussion at the national level. 

Social Security could not provide sufficient income to support the lifestyles enjoyed by members of many NORCs and the seniors pictured in the motion picture version of the novel, In Her Shoes (September 7, 2010 Planet), described as a “retirement community for active seniors.” A recent UCLA study found that most Californians, age 65 or older, need at least twice the income calculated by the federal government to make ends meet — $21,763 a year on average for a single person renting a one-bedroom apartment, or $30,634 for a couple. 

Senior Citizen Housing Q&A: 

Q: “Helen how to handle money and other valuable things in apt house where owner enters freely?”  

A: Judge Judy would respond “Move!” Alas, there are many elders for whom this non-response wounds like a stab in the chest. Entrance when tenant is not present is logical in emergencies. I know someone who dares to have a sign on the apartment door that reads: “Knock Loudly. Please leave all mail, etc. under the door. Emergency personnel: DNR. Apartment contains no wheelchairs or pets. Tenant is hearing impaired but not otherwise disabled. Health information is posted on kitchen bulletin board. Do Not Enter Except in Emergency.” A firefighter naively asked this tenant to arrange to have similar information on every apartment door! (DNR stands for Do Not Resuscitate). 

Q: “What do you have to say about the Comfort Keepers?”  

A: In-home care as well as nursing homes are potentially big business, and therefore, often individually owned and operated. Anyone who might be interested in a Comfort Keepers should also query the Complaints Board (aka Consumer Complaints Board) and the local better business bureau. Comfort Keepers is a for-profit self-described “leading provider of quality in-home care to seniors and other clients who need help with the activities of daily living. Now with 600 franchised offices in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Comfort Keepers has been named by INC. Magazine as one of the fastest growing franchise systems in the U.S. We were rated a " World Class Franchise " by the Franchise Research Institute in May 2009 ….” 

Q: “ms. wheeler, i am trying to asist a 74 year old tenant who is being harrassed by the manager of her apartment who wants her rent controlled unit vacant. grateful for any response, xxx p.s. please keep this post confidential, for obvious reasons.” 

A: It is always difficult to assist people in the situation to which you refer
(and there are many) without knowledge of several factors, including what steps have already been taken. Assuming the tenant to whom you refer lives in Berkeley, she might consider contacting the relevant district's councilmember. Presumably the tenant to whom you refer is not a Housing Authority voucher-holder or Section 8 tenant, in which case(s) the approach might differ. She may be aware of the counselors at the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, at 2125 Milvia Street, Berkeley, CA 94704 TEL: (510) 981-7368. I wish her well. Landlord/Tenant counseling will be available on Dec. 18 at 11 A.M. at Central Berkeley Public Library, and Lawyers in the Library at 6 PM on Thursdays at various branches (check the BPL December schedule; get there early!) 

Q: “I want to apply for a room in a housing development for senior citizens, but I cannot get an application form. According to the manager, the wait list is closed or full or some such. I know there are vacancies in the buildings. In fact, the current tenants are being asked to recruit new ones. I am older disabled person but able to live independently on SSI.” A: It sounds like your interest is in a “studio” in a Section 8 HUD rent-subsidized project. If so, you probably have nothing to lose if you contact HUD, whose regional and state offices are in San Francisco. (“Studio” is a euphemism for a room, usually with bath and food preparation provision.) Section Eight, bless its heart, is the federal government’s Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) provision for low-income persons who pay one-third (30%) of their income (e.g. wages, pension, Social Security); the feds (HUD) subsidize the balance. Utilities in senior projects are included in rent, and a senior’s medical expenses are supposedly deducted before each annual recertification, i.e. computation of the rent s/he pays. 

Q: “What, if any, is the difference between affordable and low-income rental housing?”  

A: The following helpful information has been provided by Deputy Director of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Program (“the rent board”) Dr. Stephen Barton: 

In general, rental housing is considered “affordable” if it costs no more than 30% of gross income. This is a problem for low-income renters, while those with higher incomes can afford market-rate housing. Berkeley has a number of ways of trying to provide affordable rental housing. Tenants who have been in the same unit since 1998, many of whom are elderly or disabled, benefit from “old rent control” and have rents that are often affordable. Berkeley has an “inclusionary zoning” ordinance that requires that 20% of the units in new developments have their rents set according to a formula based on the area median income, typically that it be affordable to people with incomes at 80% of area median (still too much for many seniors) or be rented to tenants with Section 8 vouchers. The courts have stopped this program for now, but affordable housing advocates are hoping that with a new governor they can get the state legislature to change the state law to make it clear that it does not apply to inclusionary ordinances in this way. Senior citizens and disabled persons who are able to obtain an application and get on a waiting list (if there is one) for one of Berkeley’s Section 8 senior/disabled projects usually pay 30% of their income after unreimbursed receipted medical expenses are deducted. (Lotsa luck with that but it’s still your best bet!) 

Q: “How to get some heat?” 

A: Assuming you are cold-in-Berkeley, Brent Nelson (981-5443) is Supervisor for Housing Code enforcement. He will probably forward your heating question to a Housing Inspector. If you don’t get a response, try contacting your Councilmember. (Do you know in which Council district you rent?) I believe the heating requirement is 70 degrees Fahrenheit but there are specifics and exceptions. It may be that the housing code simply requires that the heating system must meet the building code requirements for the time when it was installed and must be in good working order, but does not specify exact temperatures. (Do you have a working thermostat?) See also response to question above from person “trying to asist…” 

Q: “Xyz just finished its HUD inspection. Now a group called US Consultants is doing another inspection that we think is a realty assessment, as a prelude to sell. …Is Hud now selling senior housing to developers?” Are other HUD senior housing projects gettting assessed?...” 

A: To answer your question, I don't know. It’s apparent that at least one East Bay developer that specializes in senior housing projects is buying and building! There seem to be at least 2 types of "inspections": (1) the property overall with emphasis on a building's function (heat, mold, leaks, roof, boiler, security, etc.), and (2) the individual units. There is also a thing referred to as the "REAC Inspection". REAC stands for Real Estate Assessment Center, and it appears (GOOGLE) to be part of HUD. For a better response, you could try taking your questions to your local Housing Department. 

Local & International News: 

Mosaics: an Anthology of Creative Writing by Seniors will be launched at the Downtown Oakland Senior Center, located in the Veterans Memorial Building, at 200 Grand Ave., at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, December 10th. This is a joint creative writing project by members of the Downtown and West Oakland Senior Centers. Free, but you must RSVP by calling 238-3284. 

Join seniors at the Downtown Oakland Senior Center at the Holiday Open House on Tuesday morning, December 21st from 8:30 until 11:30 am. Free coffee and pastries at the Canteen. 

Don’t miss the free interactive Computer Seminar, Friday, January 28, 2010 from 1-3 PM at the Downtown Oakland Senior Center: “Before You Buy a Computer” for seniors who are ready to purchase and those who are interested in knowing more about current PC technology. Extensive discussion about pricing and vendor issues. Call (510) 238-3284 to reserve your seat. 

“Computers for Beginners” is regularly offered by the Berkeley Public Library on Thursdays; check the online December schedule. 

The December 2010 issue of the UCB Center on Aging’s new look “Engaging Aging” e-newsletter is “up”. And the Center’s new website is at

Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at 

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