By Victor Gonzalez, NYCHA Resident Board Member
I moved into Wise Towers when my wife and I got married in 1972, and 45 years later I still call it home. I raised three daughters in this wonderful community. From the day we opened the door to our new apartment, Wise Towers offered the best of New York City. Neighbors from all walks of life shared cultures and helped one another out. Kids never missed a Family Day and everyone decorated the hallways together at the holidays. We had bake sales and flea markets, stick ball contests and domino games. Residents participated in tenant patrol because they loved where they lived and wanted the buildings to remain safe. The older neighbors were the glue that held the development together.
Wise Towers is as vital a place today as it was 45 years ago and I can’t imagine a more nurturing and engaged community to live in. I am honored to represent my NYCHA neighbors across the five boroughs as a Resident Member on the NYCHA Board. I see first-hand how the Authority’s NextGeneration NYCHA strategic plan is reshaping public housing for the 21st century needs of seniors.
Safe, secure and comfortable buildings are the first priority, and NYCHA has updated its architectural guidelines to provide a blueprint for health, accessibility, and beauty. The Authority is investing millions to provide age-friendly improvements at 89 developments, including more comfortable outdoor seating areas, handrails throughout corridors, and accessibility renovations in apartments. We all know there is not enough affordable housing for seniors in our city, so NYCHA is also using its land to build 650 new units of 100 percent affordable senior housing.
Better buildings are just the beginning. At NYCHA’s 78 seniors-only buildings and 13 NORCs (naturally occurring retirement communities), seniors and their caregivers receive assistance from on-site and nearby healthcare professionals who deliver individual counseling, recreational activities and cultural opportunities. Take the HUD-funded Senior Resident Advisor & Service Coordinator Program, for example: at eight developments, the Senior Resident Advisor tailors support to the needs of every individual, helping to prevent social isolation and enhance safety and independence.
Partnering with experts helps NYCHA connect seniors to best-in-class services. For instance, socially isolated or homebound seniors in Queens receive regular home visits through Henry Street Settlement’s Senior Companion Program. DFTA’s Grandparent Resource Center assists seniors who are raising young relatives. Older Adults Technology Services (known as OATS) helps seniors make the most of new technologies through classes on computer literacy, digital photography, financial management, social media, and health and fitness. Seniors who need assistance with transportation, buying and preparing food, paying bills, getting vital benefits and entitlements, doing household chores, or other daily needs are supported by trained staff from Presbyterian Senior Services’ Circle of Care program.
Many seniors need live-in help from medical professionals and caregivers, and NYCHA permits caregivers to join a household when possible. Recognizing that many caregivers are family members, the Authority will also accommodate caregivers’ requests for lease succession rights if the caregiver qualifies for tenancy. Seniors with disabilities can request accommodations that will make it easier for them to age in place in their apartment – those might include a transfer to an accessible apartment or an apartment modification such as a grab bar in the shower.
Renovations, new facilities, services and supports help today’s seniors living in NYCHA apartments enjoy the magic of our great City. Although NYCHA continues to face challenges, the Authority is working hard to make all senior residents as safe, comfortable and connected as possible. Seniors with questions about any program should talk to their Property Managers.
Back in the day it was impossible to picture myself as one of the elders who offered their stories and wisdom to young families like mine. Now I am part of the glue that holds our Wise Towers community together. My wife and I relish the company of old friends and new generations of NYCHA neighbors – students, police officers, health care workers, teachers – who bring energy and enthusiasm to our gatherings. It’s a good life.