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Testimony of Frederick Murphy, Director of the Syracuse Housing Authority

Good afternoon, members of the Commission. My name is Fred Murphy. If you haven't heard already, I'm the Director of the Syracuse Housing Authority. Welcome to Syracuse, and welcome to the Syracuse Housing Authority.

I wanted to, since we own the hall, I wanted to take some liberties with my testimony, and I want to warn you that they will be very blatantly self-serving. I just had to say that so there wouldn't be any surprises.

The partnerships that the Syracuse Housing Authority has had and will likely continue to have in the future will not be with private entities, but with other not-for-profit entities that serve the same population of low-income persons that we have, and is in our charter, if you will. So that is another point of clarification.

Between 1980 and 1997 the overall population increased by 18 percent while the number of those 65 and older grew by 33 percent. It is reported that by the year 2050 the elderly population will more than double, reaching 80 million persons, about one quarter of the population.

This is a population that needs to be better served now and in the future. Over one million older persons live in federally assisted public housing, and yet there are still 1.7 million low-income elderly households that do not have access to any assisted housing developments, and are paying more than half of their fixed income on housing expenses.

Many have grown older in their own homes, and now need additional services provided by a human services provider. And to meet this expanding population we need to make wise use of all our housing and human resource providers.

There are many kinds of housing programs that serve the elderly, and most are often known by their numeric titles. Section 8, 202, 515s, 11Bs, 221D3s, 236. And there could be many more that I have still missed.

But often overlooked, regrettably, is the country's oldest, largest, and most successful program that provides housing for older persons. It seems to me as we examine the issue of how best to meet the needs of our elderly population, the public housing program must be considered.

To overlook it would be imprudent public policy, in my opinion, would completely disregard the investment in housing developments that have been made over the many years by taxpayers.

Public housing is a flexible program, its operating policies, its buildings, and its programs can be easily adopted to meet the changing needs of the community's older citizens in an economically feasible manner.

Anyone building, visiting a program activity or celebration of public housing senior building, in any city, will immediately feel the energy and vibrancy of these urban communities.

To illustrate, the Syracuse Housing Authority has joined with Loretto Geriatric Center, a not-for-profit human service organization, which has been servicing the unique needs of the elderly for over 65 years.

Since our contract signing on November 22nd, 1991, we have together been meeting the needs of older persons who require supportive services, but wish to have an independent lifestyle in a secure environment.

At the James Gettis Housing Development we have 50 persons living in one building. We did not see that today, we decided we shouldn't hog the show with all of our tour.

Loretto provides two meals a day, housekeeping, laundry, personal care, assistance if needed, social activities, case management, and 24-hour emergency response system.

The housing authority maintains the building, including mechanical and janitorial services, and most importantly, snow plowing. We had 192 inches last year, by the way.

Because of the success of this program we are in the midst of converting two wings of our Almus Olver building to provide assisted housing program, again, with Loretto.

As you saw in this morning's tour, we have made extensive architectural changes in the building, and particularly in the Loretto space. When finished we expect to have a facility that will be efficient, economical, responsive to the residents, and to Loretto.

An agreement between Loretto and Meals-On-Wheels is being negotiated to provide food service to the Loretto residents. It will be a short trip since the meals program occupies the ground floor of that building.

If negotiations are successful meals will then be able to achieve their goal of 1,000 meals a day prepared in their new kitchen, provided by the housing authority.

We believe the program at Almus Olver will be a success for all the agencies that have a role to play. Housing Authority will have a fully occupied building, Loretto will be able to continue to expand the services that it offers for lower income persons, and Meals-On-Wheels will hopefully achieve its production goal for maximum operating efficiency.

Public housing developments that have always served those capable of independent living can be changed to serve the needs of those who needs supportive housing.

Often our buildings are of sufficient scale to allow for the economical provision of services. Residents can stay in one building, none need to be transported in bad weather to another facility. Always a large operating expense and inconvenience in most parts of the country, and especially in Syracuse.

The conversion of the two wings at Almus Olver has cost us a million dollars, which we took from our property rehabilitation and repair program, known as the capital grant fund program.

There are federal funds annually appropriated, and prospectively we fear may be reduced by 25 percent the coming federal fiscal year. Needless to say this is money that cannot be used in making large repairs in our other housing developments.

The Syracuse Housing Authority is a proud member of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, with 60 other PHAs, who manage over 40 percent of the nation's public housing.

CLAFA, as it is known, is preparing a Bill that is titled Elderly Housing Plus Health Support Demonstration Act. It will call for a new program that will competitively award funds to public housing agencies to provide health related supportive and congregate housing services.

And I urge the Commission to support this bill so it can be signed into law, and then we can use our capital funds to repair our other housing developments, and yes, Syracuse will be a successful applicant for those funds.

It has not been difficult for this Housing Authority to develop partnerships with other human service programs. We are large enough to have a certain presence in the community, and we can provide space in a very, very, very fair price, thank you, and are capable of providing all property management services.

And, of course, being a first rate property management agency doesn't hurt at all, either.

The first federally assisted public housing development in New York state was built across the street in 1939, and remains fully occupied 62 years later, today.

I believe it doesn't take any magic for housing authorities across the country to find willing partners to provide supported housing program. It does take a willingness to step outside the lines and try different programs to meet the changing needs of the community.

I have given you a micro perspective from a day-to-day program director, and I will leave it to my colleagues to discuss the macro issues. But later I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you very much.

The page was last modified on August 15, 2001