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Senior housing needs studied
U.S. commission hears Dade elders

Published Tuesday, January 15, 2002 by the Miami Herald

As social services director for Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Centers of Dade County, Ariela Rodriguez knows first-hand the challenges seniors face in finding affordable housing and healthcare.

That's why Rodriguez, 62, who has three years to go before retirement, decided to call the Archdiocese of Miami now to inquire about moving into one of its affordable housing units for seniors in 2005.

``They told me I would have a seven-year wait,'' Rodriguez said, recounting the conversation Monday for a congressional panel charged with examining senior housing and healthcare needs around the country.

With no pension, and just enough savings to get her through two years after retirement, Rodriguez is no different from hundreds of thousands of aging South Floridians -- and Americans -- struggling to stretch their incomes and life savings far enough to meet rising housing and medical costs.


Those struggles, and the challenges of providing for this population, were highlighted Monday for the U.S. Commission on Affordable Housing and Health Facility Needs for Seniors in the 21st Century.

The only meeting to take place in Florida and the Southeast United States, Monday's daylong session at Robert Sharp Towers I, 103 NW 202nd Ter., was part of a national dialogue on how to improve housing and healthcare needs not just for today's seniors -- but the 80 million baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, who are nearing retirement.

``In America today, there is a deficit of affordable and appropriate housing for growing numbers of our older citizens,'' said Keith Campbell, board chairman for the American Association of Retired Persons.

``The housing and healthcare services shortfall of today will turn into the housing and healthcare services crisis of tomorrow if our policymakers fail to anticipate and act on the arrival of baby boomers who are of modest means.''


In addition to hearing from Campbell, the 11 panelists, who traveled from all over the country, also heard from seniors waiting to get into housing units and those living in them, as well as providers and advocates.

The recommendations ranged from improving the Medicare waiver system to allow more seniors to remain in their homes and improving transportation and social services to better coordination between the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services, which operates the Medicare program.

``Investment in a HUD housing unit is a tremendous savings to Medicare,'' said Jane Johnson of the Florida Association of Homes for the Aging.


``It costs $40,000 to put someone in a nursing home for a year. You could put that money into a HUD unit that will last 40 to 50 years.''

Jose Fábregas, executive director of CODEC, a nonprofit community development corporation, said his Miami-Dade agency can't get new low-income housing units for seniors up fast enough.

Next month, 100 seniors will move into CODEC's newest complex on Southwest Eighth Street and 22nd Avenue.

However, the new tenants won their slots through a lottery.

Another 6,800 seniors in the lottery weren't so lucky.

``They ask, `How come we don't build any more buildings like this?' '' Fábregas said.

The waiting list is about five years.

``When the waiting list doesn't move, they lose faith,'' he said.

Monday's hearing was the fourth since July.

The panel's recommendations are due to Congress in June.

Before the meeting, members toured Robert Sharp Towers, a complex with 109 subsidized rental units.

As they visited a fourth-floor apartment overlooking a lake and parking lot, commission members listened as Terri Brodes, 73, explained how much she enjoys living in her 900-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment.


She doesn't miss her $550-a-month North Miami Beach apartment, she said.

``The rent went up, up and up. There was no living,'' said Brodes, who has lived in Robert Sharp for four years and pays $198 a month.

"I can go to a restaurant and buy more clothes."

The page was last modified on January 20, 2002