With complaints of prostitution, excessive noise and kids running in the
hallways, it’s not surprising that the Springfield Housing Authority (SHA) is considering
changing residency requirements at one or more of its three high-rises to “elderly only.”
Currently, Bonansinga, Hildebrandt and Sankey are open to both seniors and the
disabled. With a number of disabled residents falling between the ages of 18
and 30, the differences in lifestyles are causing some elderly residents to
feel unsafe in their own homes.
According to SHA’s website, 458 apartments are designated for seniors and 227 for “special populations.” The latest SHA report shows 91 residents living in Bonansinga, with 58 percent
reporting a disability. Twenty-six of Bonansinga’s residents are under the age of 62. Sixteen are disabled.
Sankey is home to 102 residents, with 45 percent reporting a disability. Thirty of the residents are under the age of 50. Ten of them are disabled.
Hildebrandt has 151 residents, with 92 percent identifying a disability.
Nineteen are between the ages of 18 and 34. All are disabled. Fifty-three
residents are between the ages of 39 and 49, with 49 reporting a disability.
When asked if SHA is considering changes in residency requirements due to
complaints from the elderly, Jackie Newman, SHA executive director, stated, “There have been no significant problems.” However, minutes from SHA’s July 23, 2007, board meeting reveal otherwise. During the meeting, Housing
Authority Commissioner Linda Douglas-Williams voiced concern about
prostitution, and teenagers going in and out of Hildebrandt at night. “They are moving in the young disabled, and the elderly that are paying the most
are being ousted out.”
The 2007 report also stated that Douglas-Williams “has been asking for an answer to the young disabled problem and somebody should
have an answer by now.”
Minutes from the Aug. 27, 2007, board meeting lists complaints from Hildebrandt, including residents sitting in the lobby allowing strangers to enter into the high-rise late at night, drug dealers walking through the high-rise and someone in the building with a master key breaking into residents’ apartments while they are sleeping.
According to Newman, the agency is required by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to create a housing designation plan. However, the agency does not mandate “senior only” housing. In fact, Newman said that most HUD-funded programs have mixed populations.
Last month SHA conducted a public meeting about the idea of making one or more of the buildings for seniors only. Afterwards agencies that advocate for the disabled were asked to submit letters to the SHA by Jan. 15 outlining the impact the change would have on their constituents.
Dave Munroe, independent specialist for Springfield Center for Independent Living, says news of the proposed change left advocates for the disabled “pretty hot.” Munroe: “They said that they are considering all options. Yet, the only option we heard was re-designating all three high-rises as senior only.” According to Newman, the housing authority is only considering changing residency at Hildebrandt.
The problem with changing housing requirements in any of the high-rises, say
advocates for the disabled, is that affordable housing for disabled individuals
with low incomes is already hard to come by. The change would make finding a
place to live nearly impossible.
“Right now, public housing is the only option for this group, many of whom are
either on full social security, social security disability, or have a
disability that they have not yet been able to prove, said Munroe. “Those who do obtain housing from SHA pay a minimum of $50 per month rent,
including utilities. They are not going to be able to find such housing with
Anne Ford, executive director for Illinois Network of Centers for Independent
Living, is also concerned about the disabled being able to find housing should
SHA change residency requirements for any of its buildings. “If the decision is made to change residency requirements, I hope SHA will
consider the fact that it takes time to find housing, particularly if you are
in a wheelchair.”
Newman says when making its decision, the housing authority will look at the letters submitted by agencies providing services to the disabled. In addition, SHA plans to hold public meetings at each of the high-rises at the end of the month. SHA plans to finalize a new plan in the next month or two.