Carol Waldman, director of the Glen Cove Senior Center, gets three to five calls every week from seniors looking for help finding housing. Her colleague Sherri Meagher, the center’s social worker, who fields two or three weekly calls herself, said that they can’t offer much help. “The only thing I can really do,” Meagher said, “is have an application for the Samuel Pierce [apartment complex] sent to them.”
Waldman said that finding housing for seniors has been a problem for the nearly two decades that she has been the center’s director. “It’s getting worse now,” she said. “You have more and more people, with greater and greater needs, living for longer periods of time, with less support. It’s beginning to feel like a crisis.”
There are several options for seniors whose heath is declining — assisted living and nursing homes — Waldman said, adding, “Everyone else is kind of stuck in the middle, trying to figure out how to do ‘aging in place,’ which is ultimately what most people want to do.”
There are two apartment complexes in Glen Cove that offer viable living arrangements for seniors on relatively low fixed incomes: the Butler Street apartments, operated by the Glen Cove Housing Authority, and the privately owned Samuel Pierce apartments, named for President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who was a native of Glen Cove.
Neither complex has any vacancies, and both have waiting lists of up to five years. Butler Street’s list is so long that it no longer accepts new applicants.
Two of the senior center’s patrons, a 68-year-old man and a woman in her late 80s, both of whom requested anonymity, say they have been on waiting lists for years. “I would love to have a place of my own,” the woman said, explaining that she has been on both the Butler Street and Samuel Pierce lists for three years. Every so often, she calls the buildings’ offices to see whether she has moved up the list. “They kind of discouraged me from calling,” she said.
Waldman noted that “they can’t always tell you because it’s based on when someone dies or moves out.”
The woman has lived with her daughter, who is in her 60s, for the past three years. The apartment they share is small, she said, and in those close quarters, there’s very little privacy. “I feel like she needs her own privacy,” she said of her daughter, “and I want mine.” She added, “It’s hard for me to get used to saying that, because I’ve always been by myself.”
The man said that he, too, had been on the Butler Street waiting list for three years. He had moved up the Samuel Pierce list fairly quickly, he said, but was ultimately turned away when the management ran a check on his credit. “So what if I have bad credit?” he said, noting that his fixed income, Social Security, is as reliable as a paycheck, if not more so. “What does my credit have to do with [the landlord] taking my Social Security?”
He has lived on the North Shore for 10 years, but for the past three he has been homeless. During the winter he stays in the First Presbyterian Church, where the North Shore Sheltering Program operates a shelter for homeless men from November through March. During the day he hangs out at the senior center, and works a few days a week as a paralegal. Sometimes his employer puts him up in a hotel for a night. When he’s not at the shelter or in a hotel, he sleeps in his car in a parking garage, and showers at a nearby gym where he’s a member.
Fred Moore, the program administrator of the Glen Cove Housing Choice voucher program, said that part of the problem is that there aren’t enough units with landlords willing to accept Section 8 housing vouchers, which are provided by the city’s Community Development Agency through a federal assistance program from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
According to Moore, it’s illegal for landlords who rent out more than five units to discriminate against Section 8 recipients. But most of the complexes in Glen Cove are luxury apartments that a voucher would do little to help a low-income person afford.
“Most of the Section 8s are mom-and-pops, two-family houses,” Moore said. “We have a dedicated core of landlords who have been participating in the program for 20 years.” Now, he said, the CDA is looking for new “owner-occupied” properties to open up to voucher recipients.
Moore said that people tend to have “a lot of misconceptions” about Section 8 housing. “Most times,” he added, “people are just afraid.”
“Renting to Section 8 is just like renting to anyone else,” he said. “There’s no special process” for the landlord. The only difference, he said, is that potential tenants have been vetted by a government agency. Their income is validated, they have the guaranteed assistance from the voucher, and they have undergone a criminal background check.
Another reason why there’s such a limited supply of low-income housing is that there’s little incentive for developers to build it. Ann Fangmann, director of the CDA, said that city code does require developers to reserve some units for “workforce housing” — designed to be affordable to households making between 80 and 130 percent of the area median income, as defined by HUD. In 2017, Nassau County’s AMI of $110,000 was about 53 percent higher than the state median of $72,000.
There are no provisions in the code requiring units to be made available for low-income or very-low-income households — defined as 60 percent and 30 percent of AMI, respectively — although Fangmann said, “We’re taking a look at the [inclusionary housing] code again to see if there’s any pieces of it we could potentially strengthen. I would love to open it up a little bit to get some of those lower AMI percentages in there too, but that’s a long, long process.”