During the adjustment process to a new home, each resident has to find a way to deal with stigmas that are commonly associated with affordable housing. One of the common ones encountered or imagined by residents new to community housing for low income residents, is the judgment many people make of others who must struggle financially and live in poorer dwellings often in the less attractive parts of town.
Seniors in general, including those living with others in senior housing, confront stigmas present in public as well as private life. The most prominent of them is a widely perceived sense of public distaste for older persons who are often viewed as no longer useful to society. Low socioeconomic status and the exclusion of the elderly are the stigmas most often imposed on nearly all elderly seniors who require financial support.
In many cases, because of unexpected losses, deaths of a family breadwinner, illness and aging, many seniors subject to these stresses are themselves distressed, at least at first, by having to live in special housing or community areas designed to support persons whose incomes identify them to the public as belonging to a lower socioeconomic class.
On entering low income housing for seniors, most residents at first face not only issues of mental and physical decline, as well as that of precarious finances, but also the stigma of economic failure frequently attached to those with low incomes. This attitude is more prevalent in affluent populations where the contrast between the very well-endowed and those requiring support to sustain a decent life is striking. It is also distressing to many seniors already eliminating former luxuries: good restaurants, movies, trips to nearby cities, museums, and travel, pleasures that now had to conform to tight budgets.
For seniors in good mental and physical condition the single issue, more pressing than advanced aging or socioeconomic status, is financial survival. With many people living healthier and longer, with more medical checkups, targeted exercises, and relaxation regimes, some senior citizens today face dramatically shrinking savings and daily anxiety over how much longer they will be able to live with dignity. Even for the fortunate few, with slightly more substantial resources, the occasional perks of dining out with friends will be limited and carefully monitored.
In 1959 the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) turned its attention to the prospect of affordable housing for those Americans unable to afford the rising prices of homes and apartment rentals.
In 1967, intent on creating a balance of housing opportunities essential to the continued success and diversity of the Princeton community and pursuing a mission to provide, manage, and advocate for safe, affordable housing, Princeton Community Housing was born. Composed of 18 Princeton organizations, including area churches, Princeton University, regional education associations, and the Princeton YWCA, Princeton Community Housing collaborates with HUD to ensure that Princeton remains a vibrant, inclusive community that is home to persons of all income levels.
Princeton Community Housing opened Elm Court in 1985, with 88 one-bedroom and studio apartments for low-income senior citizens (62 and over). The demand for those units led to the construction in 2007 of the Harriet Bryan House, named after the longtime Princeton Community Housing trustee who led the effort to secure the property next to Elm Court.
The Harriet Bryan House, which contains 67 one-bedroom units, is dedicated to seniors whose incomes are in the “very low” category. The units at the residence are available to households whose income is no more than 50 percent of the median income for the region. In the Princeton area that income is currently set at $33,950 for a single person and $38,800 for a couple. Rents are pegged to the resident’s income. There is no cost for water or heat. Since most residents live primarily on social security, the rents are low. The waiting list for a one-bedroom apartment at either Elm Court or the Harriet Bryan House is 16 to 18 months. For information visit www.princetoncommunityhousing.org.
Affordable housing is widely regarded as transitional housing. It is not assisted living and does not provide the level of care found in nursing homes. Occasionally neighborhood residents express concerns that affordable housing will invite unwanted neighbors and devalue their own property. Although there have been no incidents, to allay fears and inform the public, speaking engagements are arranged to clarify what affordable housing is.
The Harriet Bryan House is one of the outstanding successes of Princeton Community Housing, which offers different programs for seniors unable to afford the increased cost of purchasing homes or renting apartments. Its mission is to realize community diversity while providing affordable, safe and well-maintained homes and apartments, offering all people opportunities for more productive and fulfilling lives. For Executive Director Edward Truscelli and other board representatives, this advocacy demonstrates the board’s commitment to work collaboratively with the greater Princeton community “to ensure that Princeton remains a vibrant, inclusive community that is home to persons of all income levels.”