Feds Skimp on Granny Homes

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The city’s first apartment building designed specifically for grandparents raising children is about to open its doors in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. There should be more to come. In 2003, President Bush pledged $10 million to create more housing like it. But the federal government now acknowledges that it hasn’t yet allocated the funds to reproduce the model.

“It’s dropped off the radar,” says Lemar Wooley, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The program was part of the Living Equitably: Grandparents Aiding Children and Youth (LEGACY) Act, passed in 2003. But when the 2005 budget was authorized in March of last year, there was no mention of LEGACY–or of grandparent housing.

“We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve received funds from both the Presbyterian Church and the city,” said David Taylor, executive director of Presbyterian Senior Services (PSS), one of the cosponsors of the GrandParentApartments.

PSS raised $13 million in public and private funds to support the project (including $1 million from the New York City Housing Authority, and a $200,000 loan from the Small Business Administration). The group hopes to build more grandparent housing, but it needs help from the feds. “Our biggest concern is getting the funding for the social service programs,” says Taylor.

Twenty-six percent of grandparent caregivers are renters, one-third live in overcrowded apartments, and 60 percent receive no subsidy or are low-income, according to the 2000 census. Because many of these grandparents take in their grandchildren without the benefit of welfare funds, the federal government actually saves billions of dollars each year in foster care funding, says Donna Butts, executive director of the national organization Generations United.

Dorothy Jenkins is the type of grandparent the LEGACY Act had in mind. A Bronx resident for the past five decades, she was forced to defer her retirement and take up taxi-driving to support her seven grandchildren when her daughter died. “I worked all my life, and now I’m stuck in the middle,” she says. “All the money I worked for I have to share with my grandkids.”

Jenkins is just one of 84,000 grandparents raising their grandchildren in New York City, according to the PSS. Fortunately, she will soon move into GrandParent Apartments, where she will have room to herself and be able to connect with other seniors. Cosponsored by the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing and PSS, the multicolored building includes 50 two- and three-bedroom units, 5,080 square feet of commercial space, and a community services center with child care, tutoring, counseling and legal aid.

Tim Gearan, senior legislative director of AARP, hopes similar efforts won’t die on the vine. “There is a need out there,” he says. “But Congress and the president haven’t seen fit to find the funds to address it.”

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